A Madison County grand jury heard enough evidence on Thursday morning to indict Zachary Capers, 23, the Collinsville man accused in the stabbing deaths of an Edwardsville couple last month.
He pleaded “not guilty” to four counts of first-degree murder at his arraignment on Thursday afternoon. Associate Judge Neil Schroeder put the case on the trial calendar for May 6.
Capers is being held in the Madison County Jail without bond.
“We’ll get the police reports in about a week, and then I’ll be better able to say where we’re at in this case and what we’re going to be doing,” said his attorney John Rekowski, longtime Madison County public defender.
Sheriff’s deputies escorted Capers into the courtroom at the Madison County Criminal Justice Center in Edwardsville, his first public appearance since his March 17 arrest.
He was handcuffed, chained at the ankles and wearing a standard black-and-gray-striped jail uniform. His beard had grown fuller since the arrest. One of his hands appeared to be wrapped in a white bandage.
The arraignment lasted about 2 minutes. On his way out, Capers glanced up toward five family members sitting on a bench and raised his hands slightly to acknowledge them, and they waved back.
After the arraignment, the Capers group filed out of the courtroom alongside 11 family members and friends of the murdered couple, Lois and Michael Ladd. All declined comment.
The Ladd group then spent about 10 minutes consulting with Assistant State’s Attorney Jacob Harlow, the prosecutor assigned to the case.
Edwardsville police found the bodies of Lois Ladd, 68, a well-known chiropractor, and her husband, Michael Ladd, 79, a general contractor, about 10:30 a.m. March 18 at their home in the 800 block of North Kansas Street. One of Lois Ladd’s employees had called after she didn’t show up for work.
The Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis was brought in to investigate. At that point, police already had arrested Capers on an outstanding Madison County warrant in an unrelated incident March 17 in Worden. They later linked him to the Ladd case.
On March 19, Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons charged Capers with four counts of first-degree murder. Two are “alternative counts” that will give his office flexibility in prosecuting the case, he said at a news conference.
Gibbons called the Ladd murders “brutal and heinous” and said he would seek a life sentence for Capers.
“The only reason we will be seeking a life sentence is because I do not have the death penalty available to me,” Gibbons said. “If I did, we would be pursuing the death penalty in this case.”
Capers was using the Collinsville address of his sister, but he was widely believed to be living on the streets. Earlier this month, Rekowski said Capers has “mental-health issues,” judging from police reports and discussions with him and his family.
The Major Case Squad unit that was formed to investigate the Ladd case was disbanded on March 21. Edwardsville Police Department is now the investigating agency.
Officials haven’t made any public comments about motive for the murders or provided information on what may have led Capers to the Ladd home. It’s isolated on a hill, surrounded by woods, at the end of a steep driveway, off a narrow dead-end lane. It’s not visible from North Kansas Street.
Jeff Connor, chief deputy commander on the Illinois side for the Major Case Squad, said March 19 that police hadn’t found a connection between Capers and the Ladds.
“At this point, we have no evidence suggesting they knew each other,” he said. “But we are still wanting the public’s help in case there is a connection that we haven’t learned about yet.”
Capers was arrested March 17 on an outstanding warrant for failure to appear at his Jan. 22 trial on 2017 charges of forgery and possessing a stolen vehicle. Also on March 17, he was charged with trespassing on a Madison County deputy sheriff’s property in Worden and obstructing a peace officer by allegedly fleeing to avoid arrest, and he received a ticket for possession of drug paraphernalia.
Capers attended Edwardsville High School but didn’t graduate with the Class of 2013. During a police contact in 2017, officers searched him and found a student ID card from Lewis and Clark Community College.
Capers has a long police record, with charges ranging from forgery to assault, trespass to possession of a stolen vehicle. In some cases, he was issued warnings for less-serious actions such as loitering or not paying for restaurant meals. One incident involved voluntary transfer to a hospital with an inpatient psychiatric unit.
Edwardsville Police Department spokesman Lt. Mike Lybarger declined comment last week on evidence or other details of the investigation, but he sought to assure local residents that they are safe.
“We absolutely know that we got the right guy, and the community can rest knowing that we got the right guy,” he said. “The investigation was very fruitful.”