Reported By: Jordan Vandenberge
The suspect has been convicted and sentenced. The case is now closed. But in White County, Illinois, closure will be harder to come by for the families of the victims. Danny Coston was sentenced to 53 years in prison on Tuesday for murdering a young couple in August 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. Wheeler's body was found a few days later in a neighboring county.
The lengthy prison sentence for the 37-year-old Coston will likely mean he will never see beyond prison walls ever again.
"We'll get a little bit of closure today but not a whole lot," said Harold Wheeler, Jacob's father. "Our kids are dead. He's still living. Whenever I get that phone call that Danny Coston is dead, then I'll have closure."
"He is one lucky guy. If I got my hands on him, I'd rip his heart out if he's got one."
In their impact statements, the Evans and Wheeler families told the court of the agony that never ceases and the pain that never wavers. Jessica's mother told the court that Jessica's life could have been whatever she wanted it to be. Ironically, the grieving mother said Jessica wanted to be a nurse at a prison.
"My daughter was taken away by a monster in the dark, dark night," said Jessica's mother.
The Wheeler family described the past year as an 'emotional roller coaster' and a 'nightmare.'
But before the crowded courtroom, the chain-shackled Coston waived his right to speak at the advice of his attorney.
"[Danny Coston] is a heartless guy," Wheeler said. "He should have got up and apologized to our families. He didn't have the guts to do it."
Following their impact statements, the judge presiding over the case had stern words for Coston.
"Not much can forgive your conduct," the judge told Coston. "The Court finds that you executed these two people. Nothing forgives that."
The judge also told Coston that he would not have accepted the 53 year prison sentence if the Evans and Wheeler families had not consented to an agreement before Coston's conviction last August.
"The Court is bound by that agreement," the judge told Coston. "If I could give you more time in prison, I would. You deserve it."
The courtroom was packed for Coston's sentencing. In fact, some members of the gallery had to sit in the jury box because there wasn't any room.
"It's a reflection of how strong and how much of an impact Jessi and Jacob had on their community, their family, their friends," said Denton Aud, the White County State's Attorney. "That's how it's been through this whole process."
A process; that's exactly how it's been for the Wheeler and Evans families. It's been a painful process they've shared together.
"There's not two families here," Wheeler said. "After the death of our kids, we're one family."
Danny Coston's final walk from the White County Courthouse brought vindication and validation for these two grieving families. For Harold wheeler, he'll be counting down to the day he can finally be at peace. That's if peace is even possible.
"Coston's days are numbered," Wheeler said. "And I'll be waiting."
As part of an agreement reached with the victim's families, Coston will only be allowed to appeal the judge's decision to allow his taped confession into evidence. Aud says even if that taped confession had been ruled inadmissible as evidence, the State had a clear, compelling and strong case against Coston.
Coston is expected to be handed off to the Illinois Department of Corrections within a couple of weeks.