Fox Valley found innocent of murder charges

Frank Callahan

Geneva

An Aurora man was freed from jail this week after a Kane County jury found him innocent of murder charges.

The jury deliberated about two hours before clearing Joe Willie Conwell, 43, of 466 N. Farnsworth Ave. Conwell had been held in the Kane County Jail since his arrest in February.

The verdict came at the end of a three-day trial

During the testimony, Conwell admitted striking the murder victim, Jeffrey Thomas Bauer, 30, who was beaten to death by a mob on an Aurora street.

But, Conwell said, the victim was his friend, and he only hit Bauer in hope of sparing the man from a worse beating at the hands of others.

"Jurors felt Conwell intended to help protect the victim," said Assistant State's Attorney Mark Monaco, who prosecuted the case.

Conwell was one of five defendants accused of killing Bauer. Two others - Yocka Stewart, 17, of 819 E. Benton St.; and Gregory Cox, 19, formerly of 745 E. Benton St., both of Aurora - already have been convicted of first-degree murder in the case. Each faces a mandatory prison sentence of 20 to 60 years. Sentencing for both men is scheduled for August 30.

Two other suspects - Shawn X. Richardson, 17, of 19 S. East Ave., and Eddie J. Stewart, 16, of 1648 Northeast Drive, both of Aurora - were granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony against Conwell, Cox and Yocka Stewart.

The residence at which Bauer was staying was a known drug house, Aurora police said. Bauer was beaten to punish him for insulting the owner of the house, the grandmother of Yocka Stewart, according to court room testimony. The killing occurred December 8, 1990.

Conwell, the victim's friend and former room-mate, struck the first blow against Bauer, knocking the victim to the ground. Conwell hit Bauer in hope of placating the mob of youths who were threatening to beat the victim, said defense attorney David Camic. Medical testimony showed the one punch thrown by Conwell could not have been fatal, Camic said.

The defense also argued that co-defendants Eddie Stewart and Richardson, both identified as gang members, lied about Conwell's involvement in the beating to save themselves from prosecution.

Testimony also revealed that it was Conwell who directed the other defendants to carry Bauer inside after the beating, and that it was Conwell who called for an ambulance, Monaco said.