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No charges coming in Molly Young case

Geoffrey Ritter
Carbondale Times

CARBONDALE — A special prosecutor assigned last year to review the circumstances surrounding the mysterious death of Molly Young has concluded there is not enough evidence to warrant criminal charges, and the case will remain open.

Patrick Delfino, director of the Special Prosecution Unit of the State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor office in Springfield, said he issued a final report late last month, and it was filed Friday at the Jackson County Circuit Clerk’s Office.

Delfino’s office took over the inquiry into Young’s 2012 death last year following a request from Jackson County State’s Attorney Mike Carr, who at the time said that in spite of some remaining questions, substantial evidence in the case indicated Young, 21 at the time of her death, may have killed herself.

That assessment, however, has done little to quell some suspicions about her uncertain end, and the very public Justice for Molly movement has continued to pose questions concerning her death, attracting attention from both local and national media. 

They have alleged that Young’s on-and-off boyfriend, Richie Minton, the only other person in his apartment on Westridge Drive in Carbondale at the time, might have fired the fatal gunshot. They also have alleged that local police helped to conceal it.

The 19-page special prosecutor’s report notes that while Young’s death was “tragic,” investigators simply have not found enough evidence to charge Minton or anyone else. However, they will keep the case open.

“This allows anyone to still come forward with information that would advance the theory of a homicide rather than suicide,” the report says. “The reality of a criminal prosecution is that once an indictment is issued, the prosecutor must be armed with the same evidence he or she would need to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Such a threshold cannot be met under the facts of the case at this time.”

A controversial death

Police found Young’s body the morning of March 24, 2012, in the bedroom of Minton, who at the time was employed as a dispatcher at the Carbondale Police Department. Minton, who reported the incident in a 911 call several hours after Young’s assumed time of death, told first responders that he must have slept through the shot fired from his .45-caliber handgun. He has not agreed to any subsequent interviews with investigators and also has declined past interview requests from the Times.

The Justice for Molly group on Facebook, which now numbers more than 25,000 members, has spent the past two and a half years calling attention to some details of the case, including a lack of gunshot residue on the hands of Minton or Young and a lack of fingerprints on Minton’s handgun that fired the shot. 

Minton reported the death as an overdose in his 911 call, later telling first responders that he only found the gunshot wound after attempting to perform CPR on Young. When investigators discovered a pair of fresh, 6-inch scratches on his back that morning, he told them he must have sustained them while administering CPR.

In addition, a document in the Illinois State Police case file  — the ISP were called in less than an hour after the 911 call because of concerns stemming from Minton’s employment with the local police — indicates that Carbondale Police, the first on the scene, “allowed” Minton to wash his hands and change his clothes before going to the Police Department for questioning. Local authorities, including State’s Attorney Carr, have denied this is true.

But despite the suspicions stemming from the early moments of the investigation, Young’s own words have created even more uncertainty. At an inquest in January 2013, jurors heard extended excerpts from journals Young had kept in which she expressed a range of suicidal thoughts. Also, a series of text messages sent from her phone in the hours before she died detailed more suicidal thoughts and attempts to overdose on pills.

Perhaps most critically, a text message sent from Young’s phone just moments before her presumed time of death indicated that she planned to shoot herself in the head after discovering text messages on Minton’s phone in which he was trying to arrange for a sexual encounter with another woman. The inquest jury ultimately ruled the manner of Young’s death undetermined due to a lack of evidence.

The special prosecutor’s report addresses many of these issues, although it adds few new facts to what previously was known.

Lack of prints on gun not enough to be conclusive

State Police investigators were unable to recover any latent fingerprints on Minton’s handgun that fired the shot. However, the report questions what incentive Minton would have had to “wipe down” the firearm, as some have speculated, given that he was the owner. That his fingerprints might have been on it would have been expected, prosecutors said. However, they found no prints that could be connected to Young either. 

They also dismissed theories that Minton attempted to mislead police when he initially reported the death as an overdose. Surely he would have known that first responders quickly would unravel such a deception, the report says.

“This finding indicates not that the prints had been ‘wiped away,’ but that no impressions were found on the firearm that were suitable for comparison to known fingerprints — that is, no impressions from the firearm were sufficient to compare to Minton’s fingerprint record,” the report says. “This finding is not unusual, given that retrieving prints suitable for comparison from handguns is often problematic, particularly when, as here, the firearm has uneven surfaces like serrated stocks and grips.”

Young’s DNA and Minton’s scratches not conclusive

Two facts about the case — that a likely match for Minton’s DNA was found under Young’s fingernails, and that police found two fresh scratches on Minton’s back the day of her death — together have stirred considerable controversy. 

When investigators discovered the scratches and asked Minton about their origin, he told them he must have gotten them while attempting to give Young CPR — a response that provoked incredulity from a State Police master sergeant in a September 2012 communication with a fellow investigator.

“I did see in an interview that [Minton’s] response was that it must have happened when he was giving her CPR. (I can’t believe that one.)” the master sergeant wrote. “Per the Lab report, can we also get the lab a copy of the boyfriend’s DNA to compare it to the DNA found under her fingernails?”

The special prosecutor says the pair of details “certainly could support the theory that she scratched Minton during an altercation,” but the case lacks any other “plausible evidence of an altercation.”

Did he hear the gunshot?

Minton’s early statement to police that he didn’t hear the gunshot go off in his bedroom because he was passed out on the bed has been the source of significant skepticism. However, prosecutors say they cannot rule out the possibility, “however improbable,” that he could have slept through the noise or even heard it but not recognized what it was.

Also, they point out that the gun appears to have been in physical contact with Young’s head when it was discharged — something that could “substantially muffle the sound emitted because that gas that causes the ‘bang’ continues into the closed surface.”

Aside from the noise, the gunshot also covered the small bedroom in gunshot residue. Surprisingly to some, an insufficient amount of residue was found on the hands of either Minton or Young to show conclusively who pulled the trigger, although some was found on Young’s shirtsleeve. Minton washed his hands before allowing a test for gunshot residue later in the day. When exactly he first washed his hands remains one of the case’s most controversial points.

“The lack of GSR on Molly’s hands is not conclusive evidence to show that the lack of GSR on Minton’s hands proves she did not fire the gun and that he did,” the report says. 

Left hand v. right hand

The report says that the trajectory of the bullet doesn’t exclude Minton as the possible shooter. The path it took — entering through the front of Young’s head and traveling toward the rear of her skull at a “slightly downwards” angle — is not the most common found in suicides, although prosecutors note it is not at all unheard of.

What has perplexed many observers, however, is whether the right-handed Young, who had no experience with firearms, could have fired the shot using her left hand, which likely would have been a necessity considering the bullet’s point of entry. The report points out that statistically, most individuals who shoot themselves use their dominant hands, but that is not always the case.

“The crime scene reveals evidence that Molly could have shot herself using her left hand,” the report says. “First, the firearm was recovered from the left side of Molly’s body. Additionally, Molly’s cellular telephone and a bottle of pills were found next to Molly’s right ankle, indicating that she may have been holding those items in her right hand while she had the firearm in her left hand shortly before shooting herself. In short, while not conclusive, it is certainly possible that Molly could have shot herself using her left hand. The evidence is therefore inconclusive as to how, or with what hand or hands, the shooter held the firearm.”

Blood on Minton’s pants

Investigators did not conduct a blood alcohol test on Minton until nearly 14 hours after Young’s time of death. However, statements from witnesses overwhelmingly suggest that he drank heavily the previous evening, and investigators also found traces of vomit on his shorts. Young’s family has questioned how inebriated he truly was at the time of Young’s death.

“Given the totality of the evidence, Minton was likely intoxicated at the time of Molly’s death,” the report says. “Our conclusion in this regard, however, does not foreclose the possibility that Minton fired the shot that killed Molly. Instead, this conclusion merely renders improbable the theory that Minton is lying about being intoxicated.”

Curiously, investigators found at least 50 droplets of blood on Minton’s pajama pants — mostly located along the front side of the right pants leg and about 2 feet above the ankle. However, investigators have been unable to conclude whether the blood was deposited by spatter — distributed through the air just as a moving paintbrush would spatter paint — or through direct contact with a pool of blood or a bloody object.

No further witnesses found

Carbondale Police reported canvassing the neighboring apartments the morning of Young’s death and spoke with at least a few neighbors, although their comments were completely redacted from reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. In addition, some witnesses have come forward anonymously to other local media to claim they saw Carbondale Police personnel on the scene well before the initial 911 call was placed just after 9 a.m.

Under the special prosecutor’s new investigation, the Illinois State Police reportedly re-interviewed several of the neighbors, but those efforts “produced not a single person who would say that he or she observed any suspicious activity near or at the apartment prior to 9:00 a.m. the morning of Molly’s death,” according to the report. “Accordingly, the interviews of potential witnesses do not weigh in favor of or against proceeding with a prosecution.”

Molly’s phone and computer

Supporters of Justice for Molly have alleged that a range of suicidal text messages on her phone — including one sent just minutes before her presumed time of death in which she said she was going to shoot herself in the head — were compromised by someone allegedly covering for Minton. 

Similarly, investigators were unable to properly recover information from Minton’s phone and computer, leading to further theories that information on his end had been compromised. In late 2012, investigators interviewed Minton’s father, a Franklin County detective and cyber-crime expert, and asked directly whether he had done anything to his son’s phone or computer. He said he had not.

Young’s phone was recovered from under her leg at the scene of the death. Prosecutors say there was no opportunity for it to be manipulated and that it was immediately taken into police custody. Also, the report dispels the notion that either Carbondale Police or the Illinois State Police engaged in any effort to cover for Minton.

“Not a shred of credible evidence exists that the Carbondale Police Department or the Illinois State Police engaged in an effort to protect Minton or any member of his family by ignoring or manipulating evidence,” the report says. The report does not address the issues surrounding Minton’s phone or computer.

Meanwhile, Young’s computer showed evidence of searches for “suicide” beginning around 12:45 a.m. March 23 — a little more than 24 hours prior to her death. However, a friend, Cullen Stout, reported to police that they had attended a concert together that evening and that she did not return home until around 2 a.m. 

Investigators say they were unable to find any evidence that Young’s computer had been tampered with, and based off of a lengthy Facebook conversation she reportedly had with a former boyfriend early that morning, they concluded that Stout more than likely dropped her off at home around 12:30 a.m.

An uncertain future

What will happen next is unclear. The special prosecutor’s final report represents the third time a prosecutor — the first two being State’s Attorney Carr and former state’s attorney Mike Wepsiec — has passed on pursuing the case due to insufficient evidence.

In late June, Larry Young, Young’s father, filed a civil suit against Minton alleging that he fraudulently concealed Young’s death by wiping the gun clean, changing his clothes, waiting hours to call 911 and declining to give investigating authorities a statement.

The statute of limitations on civil wrongful death cases in Illinois stands at two years, meaning the deadline to file such action in Young’s case technically passed in March. However, attorney Charles Stegmeyer, who is representing Larry Young, said he filed the suit claiming “fraudulent concealment” of information, which by law would shift the statute of limitations to five years. 

Stegmeyer previously said he expects a “vigorous fight” to demonstrate that point. The lawsuit already has been challenged on these grounds, and the next hearing in the case is in January.

Meanwhile, Minton left the Carbondale Police Department in 2013 but has found himself in other trouble. Earlier this month, he was sentenced to serve 14 days in jail for a case of DUI in late 2013 — his second DUI in under a year.

His attorney, Terry Green, has not returned repeated messages left over time at his office.

Because of all the remaining questions surrounding Young’s death and the apparent lack of closure, the special prosecutor’s office stressed in its report that it empathizes with Young’s family.

“This, of course, is a trying time for Molly’s family and friends,” the report says. “[The special prosecutor’s office] is sensitive to that difficulty, and, as prosecutors, our hearts go out to them. This was a thorough, lengthy investigation, and for good reason: it was, and is, important.”

Elected official sentenced to prison

Geoffrey Ritter
Carbondale Times

MURPHYSBORO — A Murphysboro city alderman will spend about 27 months in prison after he pleaded guilty Monday to charges of aggravated criminal sexual assault and aggravated battery.

Ronald Nolan, 47, received two consecutive sentences for his actions in a string of incidents that started in September 2013, when he allegedly confined a 20-year-old woman in his car and touched her inappropriately.

Less than a month later and while in the Jackson County Jail on the original charges, Nolan then was accused of attacking jail staff and attempting to escape. In November 2013, he was charged again with additional counts of assault and battery within the jail.

Nolan’s sentence this week was for a total of nine years in prison, although with time already served and day-for-day credit while incarcerated, he should be out in early 2017. Then, he will face two years of parole, and he will be required to register as a sex offender for life.

Public service interrupted

In April 2013, Nolan won election to the Murphysboro City Council from the city’s ward 1 and remains listed as an alderman on the city’s website. He was only months into his term, however, when his problems began.

On Sept. 7, 2013, Carbondale Police responded to a gas station on West Main Street for what initially was relayed as a robbery. Upon arrival, officers met with a victim who indicated that a male ultimately identified as Nolan held her against her will inside of his vehicle, traveled through several different areas in Jackson and Union counties, and touched her on the breast and genitals.

During the investigation, officers learned that the victim made numerous attempts to get out of the vehicle, including pulling on the steering wheel in an effort to crash the vehicle. Also, officers located Nolan’s vehicle and learned that the locking mechanisms had been damaged so that it was impossible to open the passenger door from the inside.

Officers located the victim’s cell phone in the Big Muddy River and were able to trace the defendant’s movements back into Murphysboro after the assault via surveillance video from a number of businesses.

Police arrested Nolan five days after the incident, but things only grew worse. On Oct. 10, while incarcerated at the Jackson County Jail, Nolan attempted to escape out of his cell and began to struggle with Corrections Officers. 

During the struggle, one officer was struck in the genitals, and another suffered a broken pinky finger. In late November 2013, another altercation at the jail allegedly took place, although charges in that incident were dropped as part of Monday’s plea deal.

Alderman had religious past

Nolan, originally from Murphysboro, spent a significant portion of his life out of the area and in service to various churches. According to a biography provided by one Oklahoma City church for which Nolan served as an elder, Nolan’s work in ministry began in the late 1980s, and he worked for a number of churches over the next many years.

In 2006, Nolan and his then wife began New Day Christian Life Deliverance Center in Edmond, Okla., and spent several months commuting with their three children between Houston and Edmond to get the church off the ground, according to a 2007 article from the Edmond Sun newspaper. Prior to starting the church, the Nolans were apostles for New Day International Ministries and “helped pastors of struggling or new churches get organized,” according to the newspaper account.

“We serve a real God,” Nolan told the paper. “The Bible is an owner-operated manual on getting back to God.”

The Nolans also were profiled in a 2007 article in Essence magazine about their 23 years together, a divorce and remarriage they experienced during the 1990s, and their then work as premarital counselors on behalf of the church.

How and why Nolan returned to Murphysboro in 2009 is unclear. In April 2013, Nolan won election as an alderman with 59 percent of the vote. He was seated that May, and his term will expire in 2017. 

Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens previously told the Times that the city would reserve judgment on Nolan until the judicial process was complete.

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