A man who admitted to brutally killing a toddler nearly 30 years ago has been released from an Illinois prison.
Richard Howard, 62, was released from the Dixon Correctional Facility on Sunday. He’s been there since 2000, when he was sentenced to 45 years for killing 22-month-old Carrie Lynn Gaines in the early 1990s. Howard was dating the child’s mother at the time of the crime.
The case took a couple twists after Carrie Lynn’s remains were found on October 25, 1995, in Rockford. Authorities alleged that Howard beat Carrie Lynn to death five years earlier and that he and the child’s mother, Sherri Gaines, put her body in a cardboard box and buried it behind a garage on the city’s west side. Police unearthed the remains after receiving an anonymous tip.
Digging up Carrie Lynn’s body was challenging, recalls the former coroner. Because years had passed, the area has been significantly overgrown.
“There was a lot debris and leaves,” now-retired Winnebago County Coroner Sue Fiduccia told the Rockford Register Star. “You can’t just take a shovel and dig down. You have to preserve everything.”
It took about three days to positively identify the remains. They were wrapped in a blanket Sherri Gaines made for her daughter while she was pregnant, a key piece of evidence in the case.
Howard’s first conviction was thrown out in 1999 by the state appellate court. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder before his second trial. Gaines was not charged because the statute of limitations for concealment of a homicide was three years at the time.
A center that helps physically and sexually abused children was renamed the Carrie Lynn Children’s Center after the case concluded.
“We wanted to keep the memory of the child alive,” said Paul Logli, the state’s attorney who prosecuted Howard. “I hope the name on the center motivates the community to do whatever we can to stop this crazy domestic violence that impacts adults and children.”
The murder of Carry Lynn Gaines was one a few notable cases in Rockford in recent years. In 2013, Tina LaMonica was sentenced to 12 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter in her baby’s death. The prosecution successfully argued that LaMonica’s cocaine addiction killed her daughter, Gia. LaMonica left the hospital during pre-term labor to buy drugs, then delivered the baby prematurely. Gia was addicted to cocaine when she was born and died seven days later.
In one of the most chilling cases in northern Illinois, a woman named Katie Stockton was sentenced to 50 years behind bars for giving birth to a baby girl in 2004 and leaving her to freeze to death near her home. The remains of two other newborns were later found in the trunk of Stockton’s car. They were born before 2004.