The Pulaski County sheriff says the people suspected of beating and robbing an 82-year-old man likely are involved in other crimes in Pulaski and surrounding counties. Officers arrested six people on Monday and early Tuesday for that crime.
At a news conference on Wednesday morning, a son and daughter of beating victim Robert Willhite shared photos of him. Willhite is recovering in a hospital with critical injuries after being robbed and beaten in his home near Swedeborg.
“Seeing the level of support they gave us and kept us informed has really helped. We've been able to communicate that to our father. He's still in critical condition, but he is more responsive. We were able to tell him the great work that this team has done and give him some relief, knowing that he is now safe, and that's important to us,” said daughter Linda Willhite.
The Willhites said their father is a survivor.
At the news conference, Sheriff Ron Long said he was keeping the Springfield Police Department informed on this case because it has similarities to the murders of Gary and Jan Tyrell, who were found murdered in their home in southeast Springfield in May. He said, however, that his detectives regularly meet with those in other counties to compare notes on crimes and investigations.
Ron Long calls the group of individuals arrested in this case an organized ring. He said detectives are continuing to investigate this case as well as others and are working with various law enforcement agencies.
Four of the six suspects for the crimes against Willhite were charged by Wednesday morning.
• Melissa Winkle, 34, of Crocker is charged with being in possession of burglary tools and receiving stolen property. Her bond is $10,000. It's not clear if she participated in the burglary or got involved in the crime the next day.
• Roby Sapere, 57, of Richland is charged with first-degree assault, causing serious injury, and first-degree burglary. A judge set his bond at $1 million.
• Thomas York, 35, of Dixon is charged with first-degree assault, first-degree burglary, felonious restraint, two counts of theft of firearms, and two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm. His bond is set at $1 million.
• Jessica Berry, 24, of Dixon is charged with two counts of receiving stolen property. Her bond is $500,000.
The fifth and six suspects, Vernon Dale Parker Jr. and Shawn Green, weren't charged by Wednesday. According to the probable cause statements against the other four suspects, Parker may have been the one who beat Willhite, and Green may have acted as a lookout.
After Parker’s arrest in Fulton, he was sent back to the state prison system for violating conditions of his parole after serving time for two burglaries in St. Robert in 2010. Online court records show Parker has numerous convictions in several counties in the 1990s and 2000s for passing bad checks. He also faces two burglary charges that were filed in Miller County on June 26 and July 9.
The sheriff says the explosive device found while searching for Parker last weekend is believed to have been made to deter officers and possibly harm them.