A 38-year-old man who is behind bars for sexually assaulting a female relative was charged today in one of the area’s highest-profile unsolved murders — the 2004 rape and killing of 3-year-old Riley Fox in Will County.
Scott Eby is charged with first-degree murder and predatory criminal sexual assault of a child. He’s being held without bond.
“Finally there can be justice for Riley,” said her parents, Kevin and Melissa Fox, in a prepared statement.
Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow and Michael Cosanovich, the FBI’s assistant special-agent-in-charge of the Chicago office, announced the charges in Joliet.
Eby was linked to Riley’s killing through DNA evidence, said Kathleen Zellner, an attorney for Riley’s father. At a news conference today, Glasgow refused to discuss DNA evidence.
Eby, who lived about a mile from Riley in Wilmington at the time of her death, is a registered sex offender who was sent to Lawrence Correctional Center in July 2005 for criminal sexual assault of a relative, who is now 27, records show. Eby is not scheduled to be paroled in that case until 2017.
Eby — who has numerous tattoos with the words “poison,” “pride” and “mom,” as well as a skull — has previously done prison time on three burglary convictions and a forgery conviction.
Eby was on parole for a DuPage County burglary when Riley was killed, officials said. He also was convicted of burglary in 2003 in Cook County and received a three-year prison term. He had broken into a home in Lemont and was going through a dresser in a bedroom when a resident caught him in the act. Eby fled, but was caught with the items he stole from the home, court records show.
Riley’s father, Kevin Fox, had been wrongfully charged with raping and murdering his daughter, the federal courts have ruled in a wrongful arrest lawsuit Kevin Fox filed against Will County. A federal appeals court set the damages for Fox and his wife, Melissa, at $8 million. The appeals court said the evidence against Fox was weak and criticized investigators for narrowing the probe to Fox.
Kevin Fox gave police a videotaped confession he later said was coerced. He spent nearly nine months in jail before the charges against him were dropped after DNA evidence ruled him out as his daughter’s attacker and he was freed in 2005.
DNA taken from evidence of Riley’s rape didn’t match her father’s. Nor did a separate DNA sample taken from duct tape that covered the girl’s mouth.
“I think that it completely vindicates him and proves what we were saying all along that he is innocent and was victimized by the Will County detectives,” Zellner, who helped clear Fox, said of today’s news.
She said Eby did not have any connection to the Fox family.
Zellner remains critical of the way the case initially was handled. But in a prepared statement released today, the Foxes thanked both the FBI and Glasgow’s office and his investigators for their work that led to the “apprehension of the true killer.”
“The Foxes want to thank everyone who has supported them throughout this ordeal,” the statement said.
Glasgow said the case has “torn at the very fabric of Will County since 2004. It has torn at the hearts of everyone in law enforcement and the number of hours dedicated to this investigation, I think, probably dwarfs anything that we’ve ever faced before.”
Glasgow said he asked the FBI last June to become involved in the investigation, in part because “they had the resources available” to reinvestigate Riley’s abduction and murder. At one point, 30 agents were working on the case, re-interviewing witnesses and looking for new leads.
“It was very diligent and tedious work. This was just dogged determination by agents in the field,” Glasgow said. Glasgow wouldn’t say why Eby attacked Riley, but stressed that there’s no indication he knew Kevin Fox.
“We have no evidence to show he knew Kevin,” Glasgow said, adding it appears Eby wasn’t investigated as a possible suspect at the time Riley was slain. The evidence clears Fox from any suspicion of involvement in his daughter’s death, Glasgow said.
“Today, the FBI and my office feel comfortable in announcing Kevin Fox is innocent in this case,” Glasgow said, adding that he believes the dismissal of charges against Fox and the new charges against Eby prove “the system works.”
“When everybody does their jobs, innocent people will not be convicted,” Glasgow said. Glasgow called the little girl’s death “heart-wrenching,” but expressed satisfaction that the charges against Eby will finally bring a resolution to the case.
He noted that he took political heat for dropping the charges against Kevin Fox, particularly in light of statements Fox made to investigators that allegedly tied him to his daughter’s death. But Glasgow said today the decision was the proper one.
“It was not an easy decision, but it was the right decision,” Glasgow said. Riley was abducted as she slept at her home in Wilmington. Hours after she was reported missing, her naked body was discovered in a creek near Wilmington. She’d been drowned after she was sexually assaulted, authorities said.