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Williamson County man arrested, accused of killing 62-year-old Marion man with 'machete-type weapon'

MARION — A Williamson County man was arrested Tuesday in Cape Girardeau and charged with three counts of first-degree murder. He is accused of killing a Marion man with what police are calling a "machete-type weapon."



Ernest Alex Pulliam, 33, of rural Williamson County, was arrested after arrest warrants were issued on first-degree murder charges after authorities found the body of Donald R. Schultz, 62, in his Marion home Saturday.

Charges described in a news release from the Marion Police Department indicate Schultz may have been killed on Tuesday, Jan. 15, during an armed robbery.

Pulliam was located in Cape Girardeau and taken into custody by detectives from Marion and Cape Girardeau police departments. Pulliam is being held in Cape Girardeau Detention Center awaiting extradition to Illinois. Pulliam's bond was set at $1 million, the release states.

On Saturday, Jan. 19, Marion Police responded to a report of a possible deceased person in the 200 block of East Marion Street. Officers found Schultz, of Marion, deceased in his residence and observed visible injuries to his body.

Illinois State Police crime scene technicians were contacted to process the scene, and Williamson County Major Case Squad was activated, according to the release.

An autopsy was conducted Monday and the cause of death was ruled a homicide. According to the forensic pathologist, Schultz died as a result of chopping and slicing to the head and body with a machete-type weapon.

Williamson County State’s Attorney Brandon Zanotti has charged Pulliam with three counts of first-degree murder. Counts 1 and 2 allege Pulliam had the intent to kill and knew his actions would cause death. The third count alleges Pulliam killed a victim over the age of 60 during the commission of an armed robbery on or about Jan. 15.

Marion police were assisted by Williamson County Major Case Squad, Illinois State Police Crime Scene Services, Cape Girardeau and Jackson, Missouri, police departments and Williamson County State’s Attorney’s Office.

According to court records, Pulliam was previously charged with aggravated battery, use of a deadly weapon in a complaint filed July 17, 2017, in Williamson County. He was accused of striking a man with a socket wrench in a bandana, then striking the windshield of a vehicle while another person sat in the vehicle.

Pulliam pleaded not guilty to the charge, but the case was closed after a motion of nolle prosequi was filed Aug. 13, 2018, by Zanotti.

Pulliam also faces charges for theft in both Williamson and Union counties.

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Illinois offers $100 million in loans to federal workers affected by government shutdown

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois is offering $100 million in state funds to finance low-interest or interest-free loans to federal workers going without pay during the record government shutdown, officials said Wednesday.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Treasurer Michael Frerichs announced that eligible federal employees will be able to visit participating banks for the loans. Pritzker also said he's exploring some of the more aggressive approaches that his counterparts across the nation are taking to help the affected households.

Government employees, including approximately 8,000 in Illinois, are not getting paid because of the partial shutdown brought about by Republican President Donald Trump's battle with Congressional Democrats over his request for $5.7 billion for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Many employees — such as Transportation Security Administration workers — are expected to be on the job despite not getting paid.

"Missing a paycheck or two, or maybe more, with no end in sight has real consequences," Frerichs said. "Rents are at risk, mortgages, tuition."

The money is coming from liquid portions of the state's $12 billion investment portfolio, Frerichs said, so there's no impact on Illinois' day-to-day finances. Two dozen financial institutions have agreed to take part so far. They'll take the state deposits to dole out loans.

The governors in Michigan, New York and Washington last week asked the Trump administration for permission to pay unemployment benefits to all those affected , including those who are still working. They said if that request is rejected, the Labor Department should work with Congress to change the law. Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week he would provide benefits to those reporting to work regardless of Washington's objection.

Asked about following suit, Pritzker said, "We're looking at all the possibilities."

The governor favors border security, calling for "comprehensive" immigration reform. But he derided Trump's stubbornness over what he termed an "unnecessary wall."

"It's not just Democrats affected by this shutdown. Republicans are being affected all across the nation, all across the state of Illinois," Pritzker said. "It doesn't matter what political party you belong to, people are being hurt, and it shouldn't be that in order to get some political end, we're hurting everybody in the nation."

Pritzker noted that he instructed his administration to offer winter heating-bill aid to the furloughed workers and has been in contact with Illinois banks and credit unions to urge them to offer deferred payments or no interest on existing loans the workers already have. He said his staff has also been consulting with public safety and human services agencies, as well as critical operations such as airports, to develop plans for handling problems that arise from a prolonged shutdown.

Pelosi says no State of Union before Congress during shutdown

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday night he is postponing his State of the Union address until the partial government shutdown ends, yielding after a weeklong showdown with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Following a high-stakes game of dare and double-dare, Trump conceded that "no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber" and that he was not looking for an alternate option after Pelosi served notice earlier Wednesday that he won't be allowed to deliver the address to a joint session of Congress next week.

Pelosi took the step after Trump said he planned to show up in spite of Democratic objections to the speech taking place with large swaths of the government shut down.

Denied that grand venue, Trump promised to come up with some sort of alternative event. The White House scrambled to find a site matching the gravitas of the traditional address from the rostrum of the House to lawmakers from both parties, Supreme Court justices, invited guests and a television audience of millions.

"As the Shutdown was going on, Nancy Pelosi asked me to give the State of the Union Address. I agreed," Trump tweeted. "She then changed her mind because of the Shutdown, suggesting a later date. This is her prerogative — I will do the Address when the Shutdown is over."

Fireworks over the State of the Union speech shot back and forth between the Capitol and the White House as the month-long partial government shutdown showed no signs of ending and with about 800,000 federal workers facing the prospect of going without their second paycheck in a row come Friday.

Pelosi told Trump the House won't approve a resolution allowing him to address Congress until the shutdown ends. Trump shot back that Pelosi was afraid of hearing the truth.

The drama surrounding the State of the Union address began last week when Pelosi asked Trump to make other plans but stopped short of denying him the chamber for his address. Trump called her bluff Wednesday in a letter, saying he intended to come anyway.

"It would be so very sad for our Country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location," he wrote.

Pelosi quickly squelched the speech, writing back that the House "will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the President's State of the Union address in the House Chamber until government has opened."

The president cannot speak in front of a joint session of Congress without both chambers' explicit permission. A resolution needs to be approved by both chambers specifying the date and time for receiving an address from the president.

The gamesmanship unfolded as the Senate prepared to vote today on dueling proposals on the shutdown. A Republican one would give Trump money for the wall while one from Democrats would re-open government through Feb. 8, with no wall money, giving bargainers time to talk about it.

Both proposals were likely to fail to reach the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority. 

House Democrats, feeling pressure to display their vision for border security, are preparing a package that would ignore Trump's demand for $5.7 billion for a wall with Mexico and would instead pay for other ideas aimed at protecting the border. The cost remained a work in progress, though some said it might match Trump's figure.

Democrats' movement toward producing a plan, which they said they expected to unveil this week, was significant because it underscored a growing uneasiness with letting Trump cast them as soft on border security.

The Constitution states only that the president "shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union," meaning the president can speak anywhere he chooses or give his update in writing. The address has been delayed before.

Ronald Reagan's 1986 State of the Union address was postponed after the Challenger space shuttle exploded in flight on Jan. 28 of that year.  

Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter issued their final messages in print. As Eisenhower recovered from a heart attack in 1956, he prepared a seven-minute, filmed summary of the message from his retreat in Key West, Florida, that was broadcast nationwide. Richard Nixon sent a printed message in 1973; his staff said an oral message would have come too soon after his second inaugural address.

White House officials have been working on a backup plan to have Trump give the speech somewhere else if Democrats blocked access to the House chamber. Nevertheless, they were rattled by Pelosi's move Wednesday and expressed concern it would further sour shutdown negotiations.

Pelosi said that when she extended her Jan. 3 invitation to Trump to deliver the State of the Union address on Jan. 29, there was no thought that the government would still be shut down.

She wrote Wednesday: "I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened."

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Charges against Gaege Bethune dropped, future indictment still possible

Gaege Bethune

MURPHYSBORO — The state prosecutors who sought to convict Gaege Bethune in the 2014 death of Southern Illinois University student Pravin Varughese have dismissed the charges against him.

But Bethune’s name is not completely cleared.

Unlike an acquittal, which often prevents a defendant from facing the same charges multiple times, thanks to the constitutional protection known as double jeopardy, Wednesday’s ruling of “nolle prosequi” allows prosecutors to refile charges in the future.

Dave Neal, a special prosecutor assigned to the case by the Illinois Office of the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor, assured that the saga is not over.

“This is a long and detailed process and we believe at the end of it all, justice will be served,” Neal said.

The reason for dropping the current case, Neal said, was not insufficient evidence, but rather to address problems with the indictment that laid out his office’s charges against Bethune.

That indictment was ruled to contain wording that could have confused a jury by judge Mark Clarke in September 2018. As a result, Clarke vacated the guilty verdict against Bethune, returned by a jury last year, and ordered a new trial.

Now, Neal and fellow prosecutors have canceled the indictment as it was written. In order to bring new charges against Bethune, prosecutors would need to convince a grand jury or a judge to indict Bethune again.

“What happened today was the next step in moving forward,” Neal said. He could not say when, or if his office would press new charges, but if they do, he assured they would again seek a felony murder conviction in relation to the night of Varughese’s death.

Varughese was found dead in the woods on the east side of Carbondale near Illinois 13 on Feb. 13, 2014.

His cause of death was reported as environmental hypothermia, but the prosecution argued Bethune was responsible for Varughese's death after Varughese ran into the woods on a cold February night following a physical altercation between the two.

In comments after Wednesday’s hearing, Bethune’s defense characterized Varughese’s death as a tragic accident, and expressed hope that Wednesday might mark the end of a terrible ordeal.

That will depend on state prosecutors, and the strength of their evidence.

Any future proceedings would also be heard by a new judge, as Judge Clarke retired just a few months after he overturned Bethune’s conviction.

Today, Bethune is a free man. He walked out of the courtroom Wednesday surrounded by family and supporters. His lawyers received 90 percent of his $100,000 bond payment, court documents indicate.

Bethune's defense could not be reached directly for comment Wednesday afternoon.


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Gaege Bethune