Man Accepts Plea Deal In NIU Student's Murder

William "Billy" Curl agreed to plead guilty to killing Antinette "Toni" Keller in exchange for 37 years in prison

A DeKalb man has pleaded guilty to brutally killing a Northern Illinois University student three years ago.

William "Billy" Curl, 36, agreed to a plea deal Wednesday even as his sister, Moira Curl, screamed out in court, telling her brother "don't take it" and "Billy, don't take it, they are railroading you."

Curl agreed to plead guilty to killing Antinette "Toni" Keller in exchange for 37 years in prison. Richard Schmack said it's the longest negotiated murder plea deal sentence in more than 30 years.

Keller's family was not in court, but a state's attorney official read a statement from her mother in which she said the loss of her daughter is like "a tape that plays over and over in your mind."

"When your child dies, a piece of you ceases to exist," the statement read.

Keller's family spent the last two years preparing for the trial that was slated to begin next week and is said to be livid over the development.

Family friend Thelma Holderness said Wednesday she feels sick over the deal.

"They are never going to get closure," Holderness said of Keller's family. "What is the definition of justice? This didn't even come close."

"He'll be released," said family spokeswoman Mary Keller Tarling, sharing the shock the slain student's parents feel from Tuesday's deal. "He'll be released. ... I promise you Roger and Diane Keller will never be released. ... They were looking for a life sentence."

Curl was charged with murder two years ago. An 18-year-old NIU freshman from Plainfield, Keller was last seen Oct. 14, 2010 when she left her residence hall to work on some art in a wooded area near campus.

Her badly burned remains were found two days later in the park, police said. Prosecutors believe Curl, who was a frequent visitor to the park, attacked Keller, calling it a "crime of opportunity." He is accused of raping and killing Keller before setting her body on fire.

Curl was charged in 2011 and ordered held on more than $5 million bond after he fled to Mexico and crossed the border back into the U.S., where he was arrested at a hotel.

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