Metro-East News

Appeals court returns toddler death case back to St. Clair County after 43 years

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A 65-year-old Indiana man will have to stand trial in St. Clair County for the killing of a 1-year-old in St. Clair County more than 43 years ago, the Fifth District Appellate Court has ruled.

Gary Warwick, now a retired high school wrestling coach, argued that the deaths of important witnesses and the availability of court and medical records jeopardized his constitutional right to a fair trial. The appeals court justices rejected that argument this week and voted to reverse the decision by the trial court judge, Robert Haida, who dismissed murder charges against Warwick in 2014.

The high court ruled that Warwick’s legal arguments that he could not receive a fair trial after so many years have passed “... are speculative and potential rather than actual and substantial.”

Warwick was indicted for first-degree murder in 1973 in Washington Park for the killing of Joseph Abnernathy III, known as “Baby Joey,” but the charges were dismissed a year and a half later in St. Clair County Court for reasons that the appeals court justices say remain “unclear.”

In an indictment filed against Warwick in 2014, he is alleged to have “struck and beat” the child, who was found slumped over the bars of a tricycle.

Since the death, the lead detective on the case has died, as has the child’s maternal grandmother who was the first to find the boy unconscious. Medical records, including the autopsy report, also are missing.

The appellate court, however, contended that arguments by State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly’s office were persuasive: That a pathologist could still examine photographs of the victim and alleged crime scene and render an opinion. The defendant and the boy’s mother could also still testify, the court’s decision stated.

Warwick has 30 days to appeal the appellate court ruling.

George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk