Indiana man to stand trial in 1973 death of infant in Washington Park

Gary Warwick
Gary Warwick

The Illinois Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of man facing murder charges in the death of a 1-year-old in St. Clair County more than 43 years ago.

Gary Warwick, 65, of Indiana, is set to appear in St. Clair County Court on Dec. 20 to answer a murder charge in the death of Joseph Abernathy III, known as “Baby Joey.”

St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly declined to comment Friday. Jim Gomric, Warwick’s attorney, could not immediately be reached for comment.

“It’s going to happen after 43 years. It’s going to happen,” said Cathy Altman, Baby Joey’s mother. “I can’t say every detail will be easy to recall, but there’s some things that you don’t ever forget. I’ve lived with this for 43 years and I’ve dreamed about it, lived with it. All I’ve ever asked for is this day, his trial.”

Warwick was charged with murder in April 1973, but the charge was mysteriously dismissed on Sept. 23, 1974. There was no reason listed for the dismissal, but there was a reference that Warwick suffered from an eye disease that rendered him blind. Warwick, a retired high school softball coach, is not blind.

In 2013, Beth Stauffer, Baby Joey’s half-sister, contacted the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department. The case was reopened. Warwick was charged again, but that charge was dismissed by Circuit Judge Robert Haida, who sided with Gomric in finding that Warwick could not receive a fair trial because so much time had passed, witnesses had died, and evidence was missing.

But the 5th District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon overturned Haida’s decision.

The appellate court found that there were witnesses who could testify, and a pathologist could review photographs and render an opinion. Warwick’s attorney had asked the Supreme Court to review the appellate court’s decision.

It was Dec. 30, 1972, when Baby Joey was found slumped over the handlebars of a tricycle in Washington Park. Warwick, who lived with Altman and her infant son, was accused of striking and beating the child, according to the indictment. The charges allege that he died from blunt-force trauma to the abdomen.

Warwick, who had been free on $200,000 bail, will now appear on the charge and have a trial date set.

“I know that it won’t bring him back but it will be justice for my son,” Altman said. “After Joey’s death, I just went into a deep, dark hole that I thought I would never climb out of, but here we are and I am ready. I am ready for trial.”

Stauffer said the family is prepared.

“We’ve been ready for three years, and it’s about time we have our chance to get it over with so we can move on,” she said.