Irenia (Lamb) Cotner was convicted Thursday of three counts of first-degree murder (accountability), conspiracy of first-degree murder and home invasion.
A Clinton County jury deliberated for two and a half hours at the Clinton County Courthouse in Carlyle before finding the 35-year-old Claremont resident guilty on all counts.
Unhappy with the verdict, Cotner made some comments to the court before being handcuffed and led from the courtroom. Richland County Circuit Judge Larry Dunn said he had to revoke her bail because of the conviction.
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As she was being led away in handcuffs, Cotner yelled at Dunn, “Kiss my (butt)!”
In a press release, State’s Attorney David Hyde stated he hopes the verdict will help bring closure to the Bennett, Kasinger and Jackson families. He also thanked Illinois State Police, Richland County Sheriff’s Department, Olney Police Department, Richland County Coroner’s office and State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor David Rands for their assistance in the case.
A status hearing was scheduled for 1 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Richland County Courthouse to set a sentencing hearing. Cotner faces a 20- to 40-year prison term for the murder of former Mattoon resident Joshua Bennett.
Home invasion is a Class X felony, punishable from six to 30 years in prison.
Cotner’s attorney, Dorian B. LaSaine, of Peoria, asked the jury to use their own experiences to judge the testimony they heard from the stand. He said things heard from the witness stand do not explain what happened.
More than one person saying the same thing does not make what they said true, he said, adding that Cotner does not have the I.Q. to manipulate others, especially into killing for her.
David Lindner had only known Cotner for about five days, he noted.
LaSaine said Cotner’s allegations of being hexed by Lindsey Kasinger were actually the result of her seeking revenge for an alleged rape by Kasinger’s boyfriend, Jackie Jackson, in April 2005. Jackson testified that he had dated Cotner for four years before dating Kasinger.
Cotner was convicted of conspiring with Jenny T. Wolfe and Misty Gangloff to kill Kasinger and of convincing Oscar R. Eck and Lindner to break into the home where Kasinger was located on Aug. 23, 2005.
Cotner apparently convinced Gangloff and Wolfe that they were being hexed by Kasinger and that Kasinger and her baby had to die to end the hex. Kasinger was 16 and pregnant when the attempt was made on her life.
During the break-in, Bennett, a United States Army soldier who had just completed boot camp and was to be deployed to Iraq, was fatally stabbed in the chest. His mother, Jacqueline Bennett, was seriously injured.
LaSaine said it was irrational to believe in hexes. He said Gangloff had already made a deal and is serving a prison sentence. Wolfe testified that a deal was being negotiated on her behalf and Eck testified in an attempt to get something from the state, LaSaine said.
Lindner, who was shot in the abdomen with a shotgun during the home invasion, died in February of complications from his injury.
Rands, who served in the case as an assistant state’s attorney, told the jury they needed to answer only two questions: Did Cotner conspire with others to kill Kasinger and was she legally responsible for Bennett’s death.
Before closing arguments, the state called Jacqueline Bennett to the stand.
Bennett and her son, Joshua, were staying at Lee Jackson’s home because her other son and some people were staying at her home in Olney. Jacqueline Bennett was dating Lee Jackson.
On the night of the attack, Bennett said she heard a dog in the house bark, woke up and headed to the kitchen. While walking down a hallway, she saw an individual in black and wearing a ski mask. She screamed, was grabbed, pushed to the floor and stabbed three times in the upper torso and abdomen.
The last thing she remembers, she said, was hearing a gunshot. She testified she did not know any of the defendants in the case.
LaSaine called Cotner’s mother, Phyllis Cotner, to the stand. She testified that two days before Bennett was killed, Wolfe told her Lindner had stolen a knife from her.
LaSaine tried to get Dunn to direct a not-guilty verdict, but Dunn denied the motion and said there was evidence a jury could find Cotner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. According to dictionary.law.com, a directed verdict is a verdict by a trial judge based on the specific direction that a jury must bring in that verdict because one the parties has not proven its case as a matter of law.
Eck and Wolfe are scheduled to go to trial early next year.
Wolfe’s trial is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Jan. 23 in Benton while Eck’s trial is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. March 20 in Benton.