The man charged with murdering Jade Ostermeier and her infant daughter Alexis more than a year ago made his first court appearance in the case today.
Eric A. Fagan, who is facing a life sentence in the deaths of Ostermeier and her daughter, whose father is Fagan’s brother Marc, said only “yes” in response to routine questions by Sangamon County Associate Judge John Childress. In addition to two counts of first-degree murder, Fagan is facing charges of sexual assault for allegedly violating Ostermeier and aggravated arson for setting Ostermeier’s house on fire with her and her three-week-old daughter Alexis Fagan inside.
The courtroom was packed with Ostermeier’s relatives and more than 20 supporters of the victims. Security was tight, with nine sheriff’s deputies and two state Department of Corrections guards. Fagan, 23, has been incarcerated in state prison since last spring, when he was locked up for a parole violation in connection with an armed-robbery conviction. He will now be held in the Sangamon County jail pending trial. Bond is set at $5 million.
Fagan had been a suspect almost from the beginning, but the investigation was hampered by a lack of witnesses and the fire that gutted the bedroom of the West Maple Avenue house where Ostermeier was found on Dec. 2, 2010. Investigators from the Springfield Fire Department called the blaze incendiary, meaning a flame had come into contact with combustible material, but stopped short of calling it arson. The Sangamon County coroner’s office under former coroner Susan Boone failed to x-ray Ostermeier’s body, despite requests from investigators, and so authorities exhumed Ostermeier’s body more than a year after she died in hopes of finding more evidence.
Dr. Jessica Bowman, who conducted the first autopsy, could not find a cause of death for Ostermeier, who did not have soot in her airway, indicating she was dead before the fire started. Alexis Fagan, however, died from smoke inhalation, Bowman determined. Dr. Scott Denton, a Bloomington pathologist who conducted a second autopsy on Ostermeier, determined that she died due to a blow from behind.
In an interview, state’s attorney John Milhiser would not provide further details on the cause of death, nor would he say what evidence led to the sexual-assault charge. He would not say whether authorities have DNA evidence.
Childress set a trial date of March 5 before Circuit Court Judge Patrick Kelley, but Milhiser said that the trial will be continued. Fagan has a right to trial within 120 days, but Milhiser said he believes that a trial could be more than a year away. Regardless of when the trial starts, Milhiser said his office is prepared.
“We’ll be ready to go to trial when it goes to trial,” Milhiser said.
Milhiser said that he will try Fagan himself, with help from first state’s attorney Matthew Maurer, his top assistant.
“I’m the state’s attorney and this is a serious case where we have a young mother and her baby horrifically murdered,” Milhiser said. “This is the type of case that keeps you up late at night working.”
After Fagan’s appearance, which lasted less than five minutes, Milhiser spoke with Ostermeier’s family and friends in the hallway outside the courtroom.
“I think they’re relieved that there’s some movement and someone’s been charged in the case,” Milhiser said.
Contact Bruce Rushton at email@example.com.