JACKSON COUNTY - An ordeal that began nearly 25 years ago ended on Friday with the guilty verdict of Daniel Woloson, who had been charged in the 1981 murder of Susan Schumake.
Schumake, a Chicago Heights native studying radio and television at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, was raped and murdered on Aug. 17, 1981, as she used a common shortcut across campus known then as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Woloson, a 46-year-old Michigan man, was arrested in September 2004, after improved DNA technology contributed to making him a prime suspect.
"The DNA in this case doesn't lie," Jackson County State's Attorney Michael Wepsiec said during his closing argument. "The defendant is the person in this great whodunit. Daniel Woloson is the person who killed Susan Schumake."
"This makes me feel sorry for people where the verdict doesn't come out the way maybe it should," John Schumake, Susan's brother, said after the verdict was read.
The courtroom was filled to capacity with friends and family of Susan Schumake on Friday. John Schumake held a rosary while the verdict was read, crossing himself quietly before the jury came in for the reading.
Judge Donald Lowery warned the assembly that he wouldn't tolerate "outbursts of any kind" before the clerk read the verdict. There were no outbursts, but there were tears and hugs. One friend of the family noticed that John Schumake was shaking with emotion after a stressful week.
"I don't think I'll stop shaking for a long time," he said.
He thanked Sgt. Paul Echols, a Carbondale police officer who played a crucial role in the investigation that led to Woloson's arrest, retired police officer Lowell McGee and Wepsiec.
"Police officers like Lowell and Paul don't come along often enough," he said. "I thank you, and my father (now deceased) thanks you. He can't be here, but I feel it in my heart."
To McGee he said, "You were a good police officer. If you hadn't been, this day would not have come."
Closing arguments centered on the DNA evidence that was a critical part of the case against Woloson.
Wepsiec used a flow chart to explain how the biological evidence used to create a DNA profile of Susan's killer remained untainted, though other biological evidence in the case became contaminated.
"The statistics given to you (showing that Woloson's DNA matches the DNA profile created from the evidence) are reliable only if the testing procedures are reliable," argued Woloson's attorney, Public Defender Patricia Gross. "The reality is that contamination is an issue - it is a huge issue. Despite all the safeguards (at the state police forensic crime labs) contamination happens."
"Let's talk about the reality in this case," Wepsiec said. "There was absolutely no evidence presented in this courtroom that proved the slide (used to create the DNA profile compared to Woloson's DNA) was contaminated. There was no DNA (expert) witness called to show that these procedures were invalid… (Woloson) says he didn't know Susan Schumake, didn't see her, didn't have sex with her, didn't kill her. Then how did his DNA end up in her vagina? That's a great piece of reality right there."
In an interview after the verdict was read, Wepsiec said he has been with this case for nearly two years. He said he can't allow himself to become emotionally involved.
"You've got to be objective," he said. "You have to be able to respond to last minute motions and objections."
The story of how Woloson was brought to justice, however, is a dramatic one.
When Susan Schumake was killed, the obvious suspect seemed to be John Paul Phillips, a man later convicted of murder and suspected of killing several young women in the area. Though Phillips was never charged with Susan Schumake's murder, friends, family and many law enforcement officers were certain he was Susan's killer as well.
Not all police officers were convinced. One was Lt. McGee. McGee had questioned Woloson in 1981 after finding his duffel bag in the general vicinity of the murder. There wasn't hard evidence to support an arrest at the time, but McGee said Woloson's manner, lies about his alibi and flight from the area made him suspicious of the then 22-year-old drifter.
"From the day (Det. Bob Hopkins and I) picked him up, we just had that feeling," he said. "When he ran, we were convinced."
In 2001, Echols, then a crime scene technician in Carbondale, used DNA technology to exclude Phillips as a suspect.
Echols had applied the latest in forensic technology, including latent fingerprint recovery, to evidence in the Susan Schumake case as well as other open murder cases that had gone cold. He sent biological evidence to the state police forensic crime lab and a DNA profile of the killer was created.
Echols used a femur taken from Phillips' exhumed body to have a DNA profile created of the favored suspect. DNA proved Phillips was not the man who killed Susan Schumake.
Echols collected blood standards from two other suspects. They were excluded.
In 2004, Echols used DNA collected from cigarette butts in a car previously owned by Woloson to create a profile. It matched the killer's. It was enough to get him a court order demanding a blood standard from Woloson. That and Woloson's admission that he had Susan Schumake's backpack within days of her murder - an admission that also placed him within yards of the murder scene - contributed to the arrest warrant.
Woloson was arrested in Michigan on Sept. 22, 2004.
Mary Giobbi, a close friend of Susan Schumake, said the case has been a terrible nightmare for Susan's friends and family. They were told Phillips was the killer, she said, and they thought the case was closed.
"Then when they exhumed Phillips and found he wasn't it, it all started over again," she said. "I think the hardest thing was watching her dad become a broken man because of what happened to Susan."
"We were so young when this happened," Luanne Blue, another close friend, said. "She was cheated from so much."
John Schumake said the closure of the case would bring closure to Carbondale as well.
"This affected my whole family," he said. "He didn't hurt just my little sister. But it hurt Carbondale as well. Until this was closed, it was like an open sore."
Woloson was stoic throughout the trial, showing no visible emotion at any point during the testimony, nor when the verdict was read.
His sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 26.
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