Monday's double murder conviction of Danny Coston brought a small measure of closure for the families of the victims, Jessica Evans and Jacob Wheeler. Just hours after the verdict, the Wheeler family invited Eyewitness News to their new home where the family has a hand made memorial honoring their son's life.
Danny Coston now awaits sentencing after being convicted of double murder in White County, Illinois. While a conviction can't answer every question, it can help the families of his victims move forward.
Nothing says the country like a quiet county road. On the outskirts of Carmi, there is a street with no name and it leads to the last house on the left. The home doesn't belong to a man you see.
It belongs to the man you can't.
"This is Jake's Ranch," said Harold Wheeler, Jacob's father. "I just do the work while he sits up there laughing at me while I work my butt off."
Harold Wheeler labored with love when he built a tribute to his son, Jacob, and his son's service to the 'Red, White and Busch Light.'
"It took at least a 30-pack," Wheeler said. "Because it took a lot of hours to do all that."
The roadside memorial was built entirely by hand. The wooden marquee features hand-carved lettering. There are antique farming tools that have been passed down by generation after generation in the Wheeler family. Harold Wheeler spent countless hours in his shed carving, cutting and sanding after the family moved into the new house on Christmas Day.
Here in the country, the hours pass by slowly. Harold Wheeler will tell you, those hours drag by even slower without having his son to spend them with.
"He's always on my mind," Wheeler said. "A father isn't supposed to bury his son."
It was August 26th, 2012.
Jacob Wheeler, 22, and his girlfriend Jessica Evans, 17, went to the Little Wabash River to go fishing. The next day, White County Sheriff's Deputies found Jessica's body in the bed Jacob's truck. She had been shot three times in the head after she was sexually assaulted.
While crime scene investigators combed through the scene, there was no sign of Jacob. He immediately became a person of interest in the murder investigation.
All the while, the Wheeler family searched.
One day passed by, then two, then four. The Wheeler family would never believe their son Jacob had anything to do with Jessica's murder.
They would be right.
On the fifth day, the Wheeler family found the evidence that not only vindicated Jacob but also proved he had been murdered as well.
"Why did he want to kill my son and Jessica for helping to give him a ride home?," Wheeler said. "That's the most difficult part I'm facing because I want to know why."
"He's going to tell me before it's over. One way or another, he's going to tell me why he did it."
Fiffty-one weeks later, in a wrinkled, beige polo, Danny Coston's 33 chain-shackled steps took him to the White County Courthouse. Four hours later, Harold Wheeler did something he hadn't done in nearly a year.
"I broke down in the courthouse when the judge read the verdict and found him guilty," Wheeler said. "My son is worth the tears. He's is worth this old man breaking down and shedding some."
After the tears and after the verdict, the Wheeler family returned to the home they bought using the money from Jacob's life insurance policy.
"Jacob is more important to me than having a place like this," Wheeler said. "We wouldn't have this place if it wasn't for Jake losing his life. We'd still be at the old place catching water with buckets. But we'd rather have Jacob than this place because we can live in a tent."
Harold calls the house Jacob's one last gift. But in the front yard stands one more.
"It couldn't have come at a better day when we got the verdict on Coston," Wheeler said. "That cross showed up as a gift to my son."
Jacob Wheeler will always be 22. Jessica Evans will always be 17. On a wall, under the trees, it is here where the two will always be together.
"[Jessica] lost her life just like our son lost his," Wheeler said. "She's part of it. She's going to be right here at this memorial."
Guided by cornstalks, this street with no name leads Jacob Wheeler home. It's the house he always wanted.
Now, he finally has it.
Danny Coston will be sentenced September 17th. The 37-year-old faces at least 50 years in prison.