By David Volz
Clay Bryan Maxwell, 51, of Hoyleton has pleaded not guilty to first degree murder charges filed in connection with the death of Lauren Castellari.
At a hearing Thursday, Maxwell entered not guilty pleas to three counts of first degree murder and one count of concealment of a homicidal death.
He is accused of striking the 27-year-old Centralia woman on the head with an unknown object and then placing her body in a lake south of Nashville.
Her body, reportedly wrapped in a chain with a padlock, was discovered May 4 by landowners. It is believed that her body had been in the water for some time.
Also at the hearing, Maxwell’s court-appointed attorney, Brian Trentman, raised questions about the credibility of the state’s forensic pathologist, Dr. John Heidingsfelder.
In a motion seeking appointment of an independent pathologist, Trentman alleged that Dr. Heidingsfelder is believed to have tax and ethics problems and that his license may have been suspended or has been placed on probation.
Heidingsfelder performed the autopsy on Castellari’s body at St. Mary’s Hospital in Centralia last month.
Trentman asked Circuit Judge Dennis Hatch to appoint Dr. John Pless as forensic pathologist.
The judge said he would reserve ruling on Trentman’s motion pending a review of Dr. Pless’ credentials.
Hatch granted Trentman’s motion that Kevin W. McClain be appointed as an investigator for the defense.
Also at the hearing, State’s Attorney Julie Kozuezek said she will not pursue the death penalty in the case.
Illinois has abolished the death penalty, effective July 1, and Governor Pat Quinn has vowed to commute any death sentences handed down in the meantime.
Charles Zalar has been appointed by the court to assist Kozuszek in this case.
Earlier, Judge Hatch ordered the release of some credit card and bank information to the state, adding that those records must be sealed.
A hearing is slated for 8:30 a.m. Thursday, June 9, on subpeoned documents, including Maxwell’s cellphone records. A status hearing is set for July 5.
The three murder counts set forth different versions of the crime.
Count I states Maxwell allegedly struck Castellari on the head with intent to cause her death. Count II says he did so knowing the act would kill her. Count III says striking her with an unknown object created a strong possibility of her death.
The defendant is being held in the county jail without bail.
Castellari was reported missing over Easter weekend. Her family said she was last seen April 19 in the company of another person in Hoyleton.