The violent death of Paul McCann led to improvements in how Illinois intends to protect the mentally disabled in group homes, but the trial of the first man accused of killing him suggests to some that justice and equality are still a challenge.
Jurors trying the case of caretaker Keyun Newble, 26, charged with killing McCann at an eastern Illinois group home, heard about the brutal injuries the 42-year-old suffered. He had 13 broken ribs and lungs filled with fluid, part of what a doctor called “massive internal injuries” suffered as apparent punishment for stealing cookies.
Newble was charged with murder, which would have sent him to prison for at least 20 years. But the judge allowed the option of a lesser charge, involuntary manslaughter, and the jurors took it, making him eligible for a sentence as short as three years.
For advocates of the disabled, the April 27 verdict was insulting. McCann’s family reacted with confusion. Both are trying to make sense of the verdict’s message just as officials are trying to better safeguard the lives of disabled people who need care from the state.
A second employee of the group home, 23-year-old Marquis Harmon, faces his own murder trial in the McCann case. Harmon testified against Newble and his attorney hopes prosecutors offer him a deal that reduces the charges.
That the first defendant was found guilty of anything less than murder is an outrage, said Tony Paulauski, executive director of The Arc of Illinois, an advocacy group for the disabled.
“I think it once again shows how our society devalues people with disabilities,” he said. “The aggressive actions of that employee that resulted in 13 broken ribs? That’s far beyond (manslaughter).”
McCann’s sister, Kathy Slovick, sat through the trial and doesn’t believe jurors in any way discounted her brother. But she believes prosecutors presented more than enough evidence to support the murder charge.
“Their decision was confusing to me and to members of my family,” said the 54-year-old from the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn.
Jurors did not speak to the media after rendering their verdict in Charleston.
Gov. Pat Quinn has made it a priority to close institutions for disabled people like McCann and transfer them into situations closer to their families, such as in group homes. But the effort has drawn criticism from unions and some affected families.
State legislation in the wake of McCann’s death, called Paul’s Law, led to changes that could broadly affect the thousands of people who live in group homes and similar settings in Illinois. That population currently is 9,500 people, according to the state Department of Human Services.
The new law requires background checks of group home employees and a hard look by state regulators at any facility where an abuse claim has been filed. The law also requires a state repository of group home records readily accessible to residents’ families.
The network of homes where McCann lived, run by the private Graywood Foundation, lost its license and shut down.