"Humans are the most violent animal on this planet, and they're all capable of enormous levels of violence , given the proper motivation."
It was the 4th of October 2007. A Thursday. Forty two year old Rhoni Reuter was at home alone that morning. She lived in a condominium in Deerfield, Illinois, United States and was more than seven months pregnant. Rhoni was looking forward to the birth and had already chosen a name for the baby. Rhoni was due to give birth to a girl and she had named her Skylar.
Rhoni's partner of seventeen years, Shaun Gayle, was the father of the baby. Even though they were in a long term relationship, Shaun and Rhoni never lived together.
The Deerfield Condominium
That morning, the 4th of October, a 911 call was made. One of Rhoni's neighbors called to say they heard a scream, loud banging sounds and a crash. Just before that call, another neighbor saw a person heading up the apartment staircase where Rhoni lived. It was 7.50am. One of the neighbors told police that they saw a thin, African American teenage boy, possibly wearing a wig, running across the parking lot. That person left in a small black car.
Police entered Rhoni's apartment and found her lying face down in the kitchen. She was dead. Rhoni had been shot several times. She was shot in the back of the head, that was the last shot fired and was the one that killed her. She was shot in her arms and the Pathologist believed this happened as she tried to shield her unborn baby. She was shot twice in the abdomen and those shots killed her baby. Police found spent 9mm casings and five unfired rounds beside her body.
There were no signs of forced entry and no signs that a robbery had taken place. Police believed that the attack on Rhoni was a targeted attack especially as whoever shot her, appeared to shoot at the unborn baby first. Police obtained footage from a security camera close to Rhoni's apartment that showed a black Volkswagen heading towards her apartment at 7.04am and it left at 7.55am. She had been shot dead just before 8am that morning.
When police searched the apartment, they found an unsigned letter inside Rhoni's purse. The letter referred to "what your boyfriend is doing" and that the person who wrote the letter “found out everything” and the letter stated that Shaun was sleeping with women in destinations all over the world. The letter also made reference to Rhoni's pregnancy and said that Shaun “told everyone *** you had to get abortion [sic].” The letter included a list of the names and phone numbers of 16 women that the author of the letter said that Shaun was involved with.
Police spoke to Shaun Gayle. Shaun Gayle was a retired Chicago Bears football player. He met Rhoni when he was training in Wisconsin and they appeared to be a very happy couple. But, while Rhoni loved him unconditionally, police discovered that Shaun was dating multiple women. He told police that Rhoni was aware of the other women.
Shaun appeared to be devastated that Rhoni and their baby were dead. While there was some suggestion that he was initially not too keen on having a baby, he had started to look forward to the birth and when police spoke to him at his house, they saw a book called “Cool Baby Names.” He told them that he purchased it when he was in London that Summer. Shaun told police that that morning he slept in and then worked out with a trainer. He left his home after 9am to get a haircut. The place where he got his hair cut was ten minutes away from Rhoni's apartment. Police viewed Shaun as a suspect but one of the neighbors had described the person who left Rhoni's apartment that morning and the physical build of the person was much smaller than Shaun. That said, they were aware that there may be somebody else involved but there was no indication that Shaun wanted Rhoni or their baby dead.
Shaun Gayle and Rhoni Reuter
Police asked Shaun who he thought may have been responsible and police said that he gave them the name of a woman he dated in the past called Monika Kurowska. Monica was a fitness model from Poland and their relationship ended a year prior. But Shaun believed she began stalking him after their relationship ended. He told police that one night she went to his apartment complex and pressed the button of every neighbor's buzzer. When he went outside, he discovered that a window was broken and there was blood on her hand. After that incident, he obtained a Protective Order against her. He told police that he believed she sent letters to Rhoni and other women in his life, letters like the one police found in Rhoni's purse. Rhoni's mother had received a letter also and Shaun told her it was from a "crazed fan."
Monica told police that she had nothing to do with Rhoni's death and that she had an alibi. She was training a client that morning. Police checked out and confirmed her alibi. Monica told ABC News that the incident in which Shaun told police about was a little different than he had described. She said that when she got to his house, she found him with another woman and accidentally broke the window when she knocked on it. She ended the relationship and that was the last time she saw him. She denied sending letters to Rhoni and the other women in Shaun's life.
Police cleared Monica as a suspect.
A woman called Julie Fields spoke to police and told them about some suspicions she had. That conversation led police to a woman called Marni Yang. Police discovered that Marni, a divorced mother of three, was also in a relationship with Shaun. Marni and Shaun met a Chicago Bears convention in 2005. She was working security at the convention but Shaun later reached out to her in relation to her other job. She was also a realtor and worked with him in relation to property deals. But shortly after that, they began a sexual relationship.
Police soon discovered, from talking to Marni's family and friends, that Marni had an unhealthy obsession with Shaun. Even though Shaun was seeing multiple women, Marni referred to him as her boyfriend. Further investigation led police to believe that Marni had access to Shaun's emails. A search of her computer and house led them to also believe that she was the person who had sent anonymous letters to the women in Shaun's life. They believed that she found emails Monica sent to Shaun in his Inbox that had been written in broken English and she copied the style of them in the letters that were sent to the women in Shaun's life to imply Monica had written them. They found mailing labels with the addresses of the women in Shaun’s life, the women who received the anonymous letters, inside her house. They also found typed letters inside her house, similar to the one found in Rhoni's purse.
Police found a broken computer hard drive and bank statements in Marni's trash. The bank statements revealed that Marni had paid for background checks for personal information regarding the other women in Shaun's life.
Further investigation revealed that Marni had guns. In October 2005, Marni was detained by the Transportation Security Administration at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport for attempting to transport without paperwork two handguns and 200 rounds of ammunition. She provided the required paperwork and the guns were shipped to Chicago. Her former boyfriend, Cook County Sheriff’s Deputy Salvador Devira, said that one of the guns was a black 9-mm Beretta, with fake pearl grips.
Police also discovered that she had either made or tried to make a silencer. This was of interest to their investigation. Rhoni was shot multiple times and neighbors reported hearing loud banging noises but no reports of gunshots were reported and police believed this was due to a silencer being used. Marni's bank statements showed that she purchased a book: “How to Make Disposable Silencers” and purchased a keyhole saw, a hacksaw, rubber cups, duct tape, electrical tape, a marker, a file, a folding razor, piping, and a one-inch metal hose clamp at the Home Depot. These are items that are used to make disposable silencers.
Marni was charged with two counts of premeditated first degree murder of Rhoni and her unborn child.
It was the Prosecution's case that Marni had a clear motive. Jealousy. It was their case that Marni's entire life was consumed by her feelings for Shaun. So much so, that she shot and killed Rhoni and her unborn baby so there would be no competition for her. It was their case that whoever shot Rhoni also wanted the baby dead and that was clear from the shots fired at Rhoni's abdomen.
Marni's coworker, Maggie Zimmer, testified that Marni spoke about Shaun every day and that she had gained access to his email account and saw that he had received emails from other women. The Court also heard from Marni's friend, Julie Fields, who also testified that Marni had access to Shaun's emails. It was through the emails that she discovered that he planned to take Rhoni on a trip to Europe which infuriated her.
She found out the name of the hotel and canceled the reservations. Julie testified that Marni found Monica's emails also and told her that she posed as Monica and imitated her style of broken English. She sent emails to other women using that broken English to warn them off Shaun.
Marni's own daughter, twenty year old Emily Yang, testified. She also confirmed that Marni had gained access to Shaun's emails and had discovered he was seeing other women. Emily testified that Marni told her she sent letters to the other women.
The Prosecution called Shaun Gayle to testify. He told the Court that Marni was unhappy that their relationship was not exclusive.
But the main witness for the Prosecution was Christi Paschen. Christi had been friends with Marni for twenty years. She told the Court that she had also been told by Marni about having access to Shaun's emails and used nicknames for some of the women in his life like “Miss Macy’s” and “Miss California.”
Christi testified that Marni confided in her in the Summer of 2007 that she was unhappy that Shaun was seeing other women. Christi testified that she told her she would kill him. When Rhoni became pregnant, Christi said that Marni thought about killing her instead of Shaun and that on one occasion, she went to her apartment with a gun but changed her mind.
Christi gave evidence that Marni stayed at her house the night of the 3rd of October, the night before Rhoni was murdered. Marni asked her to read tarot cards to see if she would be successful in killing Rhoni. Christi described herself as being psychic so read tarot cards frequently. The card Marni chose indicated she would be successful.
According to Christi, Marni told her that she would call her afterwards with a code to let her know that Rhoni was dead. The code would involve Marni asking Christi to dinner. When Christi got up the next morning, Marni had already left. Christi claimed that she did not notify police as she did not think it was serious. She told police that on the morning of the 4th of October, Marni called her and said: “Do you want to go to dinner?”
That phone call was recorded as it was made to Christi's place of employment and they recorded calls. The Jury heard the recording. The Court also heard that Marni's phone was tapped and Christi assisted police by wearing a body wire and the recordings were played to the Court. That was the most compelling piece of evidence the Prosecution had. Marni confessed on the recordings.
Christi wore the body wire when she met Marni at a restaurant. Marni told her she had encased the gun in a bucket of cement and threw the bucket in a Chicago Dumpster. They met again the next day at Denny’s and Christi wore the body wire again.Marni said:
"I stood outside on the carpet in the hallway. She opened up the door to the apartment. Okay? I was in. I had a wig on. I had dark sunglasses this big covering my face. I had a hoodie on. Okay? I had dark makeup on my face and I had gloves on. Okay? When, when, when....she opened up the door, that’s when I, that’s when I brought out the gun."
The recording also revealed that Marni said that Rhoni started screaming when she saw the gun and Marni said:
"I just let her have it. I just let her have it. I think I maybe took two big steps into the kitchen to make sure she, okay? And then I left."
Marni said that she did not touch anything and was wearing gloves. She said that the kitchen was dark:
"In fact, it was so dark I wasn’t even positive that I was making straight shots. Okay? Didn’t even, didn’t... she, she opened up the door and all she saw was a dark-skinned person with sunglasses holding a gun like this. With a hoodie on, okay? And... she started screaming. I took the first shot. I remember screaming. cause at that point I realized we are now at the point of no return. Okay? Any thoughts that we had about turning back—we got to finish this now. And I just started emptying the clip. Um... She went, cause she had already started to come out of the apartment, she went backwards into the kitchen. Fell against the counter, fell against a counter, with the floor and it was all in shadows. It was all in shadows."
Marni also said that she rented a black car and purchased a disposable phone.
According to Christi, Marni told her she grabbed a medical alert bracelet from Rhoni before she left Rhoni's apartment. Marni and Christi then drove around Arlington Heights and Marni threw away various items in dumpsters such as gun grips, a black wig, and clothes. Based on information provided to them by Christi, police found a medical-alert bracelet that said “pregnant.” The bracelet was identified as Rhoni's bracelet.
The Court heard that police found driving directions from Marni's work to Rhoni’s home address on Marni's work computer. Police also discovered that she rented a black Volkswagen on the 3rd of October. The distance traveled on the black car was 40.2 miles. That is the distance from the rental company, back to Christi’s house , to Rhoni’s apartment, and back to the rental company. And Marni stayed at Christi's house that night so the car would have traveled from the rental company to Christi's house.
It was the Defense's case that there was no physical evidence connecting Marni to the crime scene and the Prosecution's case was built on speculation only.
They focused on the credibility of the Prosecution's star witness.The Court heard that in 1976, the Army recruited Christi Paschen as a psychic. Christi claimed to be the sole survivor of her “final mission” in the Middle East, and that the military erased some of her memories. Detective Charles Schletz testified that Christi told him that she fabricated her military experience to enhance her resume as a psychic. The Federal Government had no records of her military service.
Rhoni Reuter and Shaun Gayle
The Defense also told the Jury that a latent fingerprint was found on Rhoni's doorknob and it was an unidentified print. It did not belong to Marni. It was their case that the police focused on Marni to the exclusion of other potential suspects.
The Defense wanted evidence of third party motive against Shaun to be admissible at the Trial in relation to previous pregnancies between him and Rhoni that ended in abortions. That evidence was not allowed at the Trial.
Marni was found guilty of two counts of premeditated first degree murder of Rhoni Reuter and her unborn child. She was sentenced to concurrent natural life sentences without the possibility of parole.
A petition was filed seeking a reversal of Marni's conviction, a new Trial or an evidentiary hearing. According to her attorney, Jed Stone, the statements made by Marni on the recordings were a fabrication. The night before they were recorded,Marni told her parents that she was going to “make up a story about her own involvement”. According to Jed, she did this as she was afraid police would try to implicate her teenage son in the murder. Her father claimed she said:
"Police have been tormenting us, and it’s been going on for almost two years; we can’t stand it anymore. I’m going to get in the car, drive and meet Christi, and make up a story that I committed the murder.”
Jed claimed that that call was recorded but Prosecutors never released it. Furthermore, they argue that some of the evidence presented at the Trial no longer stands. They claim the vehicle captured by surveillance cameras was not a Volkswagen Rabbit. They also claim that a man confessed to police he had stolen Marni's gun months before the murder. The murder weapon has never been found. Jed claims that DNA was found on the live rounds that were found at the crime scene but the DNA belongs to an unidentified male.
Marni's Defense team also want Shaun’s alibi looked at again based on grand jury testimony of a Detective who said Shaun had been at a North Chicago barbershop between 8.30am and 9 am on the 4th of October. Rhoni was shot just before 8am that morning.
The Defense also argue that forensic testing that examined the angle of the gunshots showed that the attacker must have been taller than Marni. That matter is still ongoing and Marni is due to appear in Court in January 2021.
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