New info in murder of Shaun Gayle’s girlfriend makes uncomfortable topic even worse

Marni Yang was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to two life terms and has been in the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, Illinois, ever since.

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Former Bears safety Shaun Gayle now lives in London, doing TV work for English football coverage.

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Back in March, just before the coronavirus lockdown, I visited the office of MSI Detective Services on West Fullerton Avenue.

I went to meet with investigator Steve LaPino and MSI president Perry Myers. LaPino is what is known, in common parlance, as a private eye. Myers runs the private detective company his father, Stan, started in 1959.

Downstairs was the spy shop Myers owns, and before I went up to the office, I studied the multitudinous ways a person can snoop on someone else. 

We were meeting because LaPino had contacted me about the double homicide in Deerfield 13 years ago, a murder case that was as tragic as it was repugnant.

Rhoni Reuter, seven months pregnant, was gunned down in her condominium by an intruder who was eventually judged to be slight, 5-foot jealous lover Marni Yang. Whom did Yang feel jilted by? According to the prosecutors, former Chicago Bear Shaun Gayle.

The old case was sordid, but it seemed complete. Gayle had a host of girlfriends at the time — 16 or 17 of them, according to one report — and Yang was one. As was Reuter. So Yang became furious when she discovered the betrayal, and she killed the rival. So the story went. 

Yang was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to two life terms and has been in the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, Illinois, ever since.

But LaPino wanted me to know that a Lake County judge had just ruled that Yang’s newly assembled defense team could have access to evidence they feel would prove that Yang, formerly a real-estate agent, could not have killed Reuter and her unborn child back in 2007.

A lot of new evidence had come from LaPino and Myers and their snooping. They had looked at videotapes, listened to voicemails and police recordings, called people, compared data and found a lot of inconsistencies, lack of evidence, unchecked leads and unasked questions in the case.

Some of what they found was disturbing. 

None of Yang’s fingerprints was at the scene? She seemingly answered a land-line call at her home at the same time the murder occurred? The first shot had to have come from someone much taller than Yang? On and on.

Then there was the issue of the notoriously inept and devious Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office. This was the crew that had sought to put a man named Juan Rivera behind bars for life, only for his murder conviction to be overturned after 20 years in prison. In the Rivera case, Lake County investigators had been accused of planting blood on the defendant’s shoe.

I was troubled by this. Vicious crimes disturb me greatly, as I’m sure they do most of us. But finding the culprit — the real culprit, not a scapegoat — soothes us, helps us move on.

It’s possible Marni Yang didn’t shoot Rhoni Reuter. The problem then, if she didn’t do it, was who did?

Hence my reluctance to dig into the case.

Because I know Shaun Gayle. 

I have always liked him. I haven’t seen him in quite awhile, but back in 1994, I wrote a story about him for Sports Illustrated, a nice one in which he is reading one of several children’s books he had written to a classroom of enthralled kids. He was sitting on the floor with them, in shorts, a T-shirt and sandals. The books all had morals to them, which Gayle would explain at the end.

“I know football fans want Rambo and heads getting cut off,” Gayle told me. “But that’s not why I play. I want to be seen as outside the stereotype.”

Gayle was one of the stars of the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears. It was he who picked up Sean Landeta’s whiffed punt in the NFC divisional playoff game against the Giants and ran it in for a key touchdown.

Normal-sized, handsome, well-spoken, exceedingly gracious — Gayle had it all.

I didn’t want to think about this murder from years ago. I still don’t. I hope LaPino and crew are all wrong. Way wrong.

Gayle lives in London now, doing TV work for English football coverage.

I wonder what he’s thinking. I really do.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this column reported that wrongfully convicted Jerry Hobbs spent time in prison when, in fact, Hobbs had been in jail — not prison — for five years. Also, the death investigation of Fox Lake police Lt. Joe Gliniewicz was led by the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, not the Lake County state’s attorney’s office. These references have been removed from this version of the column.

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