The man accused of killing three-year-old Riley Fox pleaded not guilty to the murder Thursday.
Scott Wayne Eby, 38, who’s currently serving a 14-year sentence for an unrelated sexual assault, is charged with five counts of first degree murder in connection with the 2004 killing of the 3-year-old.
Prosecutors hinted they might consider the death penalty against the man.
"They've been through a very painful ordeal. He's gone through something none of us can imagine going through. We want to make sure we consider anything we can do to ease that pain," said Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow. The prosecution has until September 24 to decide on the death penalty.
Eby showed little emotion as he entered his plea.
Melissa Fox, the mother of the slain girl, made brief eye contact with the suspect during the brief arraignment.
"I can't really put it into words. It makes me nauteous. And I have stuff that I want to say to him, and I know I can't right now, but I'll get my opportunity," she said.
She said it was "beyond stupidity" the botched investigation that authorities had done.
Eby, who lived about a mile away from Fox's Wilmington home at the time of the murder, has pleaded not guilty to the crime.
The preliminary hearing comes just days after new revelations that police botched the crime scene investigation six years ago.
Apparently Eby left a pair of mud-covered shoes at Forked Creek, where he allegedly raped and killed Fox. The shoes had his name written on them.
Police collected the shoes and put them into evidence but never followed up. They focused their case instead on the girl’s father, Kevin Fox who confessed to her murder. Charges were later dropped thanks to DNA evidence that excluded him.
“Sheriff’s office did miss the clue, but so did the FBI and the state’s attorney’s office,” a spokesman for the Will County Sheriff’s department said.
Will County Sheriff Paul Kaupas didn’t address the shoe snafu, but he did issue an apology to the family earlier this month.
"I don't think that this department is that proud where we are not going to admit any mistakes. We just want to find out how to do things better and hope it doesn't occur again," he said.
Kaupas said he plans to bring in outside investigators to review the case and their investigative protocols.
"Sometimes have to bring in other people who aren't familiar with the area... to come in and show you that over a period of time you might have graduated into complacency with the way your police techniques work," he said.
Kaupas now admitted his department "obviously dropped the ball" and says he's lost sleep and agonized over this case.
"I apologize to [Kevin Fox] and the family," he said. "I don't know if he would ever see things our way, but I would try to explain... what kind of ball might have been dropped in this part of the investigation or that part of the investigation and what we are going to do to fix it."
Kevin Fox's attorney, Kathleen Zellner, said she admires Kaupas' courage in coming forward and apologizing to the family.
"Sheriff Kaupas had nothing to do with the miscarriage of justice in this case," she said.