'I didn't want to see her like that': Mother testifies about daughter raped and killed in 1989

News-DemocratMay 20, 2014 

Marva Willis lived every parents' nightmare, said St. Clair County State's Attorney Deborah Phillips.

Her daughter, Nicole, was missing.

Marva Willis lived another nightmare on Tuesday when she testified the night her 16-year-old daughter went missing and the morning her daughter's half-naked body was found less than two blocks away from home.

Willis was the first witness called in the prosecution's case against Carlos Garrett, who is charged with the 1989 murder of the Cahokia High School junior.

Nicole was found half-naked and beaten to death in a field two blocks from her home at 6805 Russell Ave. in Centreville. She had been sexually assaulted with a stick.

Garrett, 53, was charged with the murder after Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Dave Wasmuth reopened the case in 2013. When the evidence taken from the scene was re-examined, scientists discovered DNA taken from under Willis' fingernails which were cut during a post-mortem examination of her body.

That DNA was matched to Garrett, Phillips said, who gave a DNA sample during his stay at the Illinois Department of Correction where Garrett served a sentence on a drug conviction.

"We've got a match, ladies and gentlemen," Phillips told the jurors. "We got a full DNA profile match."

Phillips also told jurors they would hear testimony from Garrett's ex-girlfriend, who would testify that Garrett beat her, sexually assaulted her with a foreign object and left her unconscious and half-naked in a field.

But Thomas Q. Keefe III, Garrett's defense lawyer, told jurors during his opening statement not to just trust the science, but look at the other evidence, such as Garrett's work record from 1989 showed he was at work until 4 p.m. on Oct. 3, 1989, the day Willis went missing.

He also told jurors that Centreville Police kept Willis' fingernails in an insecure and disorganized evidence locker. He also said jurors would hear about missing evidence, including a black baseball cap taken from under Willis' body, and other suspects, one of whom confessed to Willis' murder.

Marva Willis, the state's first witness, described allowing her daughter to ride the Bi-State bus home from Cahokia High School because the teen didn't want to wait for her father to get off work and come pick her up.

Willis told the jury Nicole usually got home about 4:30 p.m. On Oct. 3, 1989, Nicole wasn't home by the regular time, but her mother assumed she went to her after-school job at a gift shop for Gateway Riverboat Cruises to pick up a shift.

By 9 p.m., panic erupted.

"Nicki ain't called. She ain't done nothing," Marva Willis told Phillips. "I told my sister that we needed to go to police station because something gone wrong."

Willis reported her daughter missing to the Centreville police about midnight.

Marva Willis' father and her sister, Donna Myers Corley, came to Russell Avenue the next morning to start looking for Nicole, Myers Corley told the jury. They found her body off a concrete slab in a vacant lot.

Myers Corley identified the body in crime scene photos shown to her by Special Assistant State's Attorney Ali Summers. She dabbed at her eyes as she described her father, Nicole's grandfather, guarding her body and telling others to call police.

"I didn't want to see her like that," Marva Willis said. "I didn't want that in my memory."

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 618-239-2570.