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Thursday, Jan. 27, 2005 07:47 am

Crime story

One of central Illinois’ most notorious murders will be the subject of an hour-long television show this weekend. Guilty or Innocent?, a new program on the Discovery Channel, will examine the murder of Karyn Hearn Slover, the 23-year-old Decatur Herald & Review sales representative whose remains washed up on the shore of Lake Shelbyville in 1996. She had been shot in the head several times and dismembered.

Almost three years later, Slover’s ex-husband and his parents were charged with first-degree murder. The case against them was based largely on a few common buttons and blue-jean rivets unearthed during an archaeological dig of their used car lot. In 2002, they were convicted and sentenced to at least 60 years in prison [see Dusty Rhodes, “Suffer the children,” Oct. 16, 2003].

The Slover case marks the debut of Guilty or Innocent, which featured another Illinois murder case — that of Julie Rea Harper — as its pilot. (The program was originally titled Reasonable Doubt.) For the Slover episode, the producers consulted with several local people involved in the case, but no one here knows quite what to expect.

A producer declined to comment on the show. But according to the Discovery Channel’s Web site, the program will focus on the work of a group of students at University of Illinois at Springfield. Known as the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, the class is part of the Institute for Legal, Administrative, and Policy Studies at UIS. At least one student attended the trial from start to finish. Others reviewed and summarized the 20,000-page transcript and handed over their work to lawyer John McCarthy, who is handling the Slovers’ case at the Office of the State Appellate Defender.

But the blurb on the Web site plays up something more intriguing — the possibility that the Innocence Project has “uncovered other suspects.”

Bill Clutter, a private investigator who works with the Innocence Project, says he has never believed the state’s theory: that the murder was committed at the Slovers’ used-car lot. No blood was found there, even when the area was examined with the use of luminol, which can reveal traces of blood years after a cleanup. Clutter believes that the accounts of multiple witnesses who saw Karyn driving toward Champaign indicate that she went to a shopping mall. Clutter believes that the pretty young woman met someone there who kidnapped and killed her.

“We’re hoping the attention focused on this program generates additional leads,” Clutter says. “There’s a possibility someone may see this show and come forward, and if they do, we’ll follow up and interview any witnesses.”

Meanwhile, the Slovers’ appeal is proceeding through the courts. Both sides have submitted “briefs” so voluminous that the usual page limit had to be waived. McCarthy filed his reply brief this week. Oral arguments should be scheduled within a few months.

Guilty or Innocent? airs Saturday at 8 and 11 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.

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