The longest-serving inmate in Illinois walked out of a southern Illinois prison Friday morning and continued to proclaim his innocence in the infamous killings of three women at Starved Rock State Park in 1960.
Chester Weger, 80, told reporters gathered outside Pinckneyville Correctional Center “it’s wonderful to be out.”
Weger said authorities had been “keeping me locked up for 60 years for something I never done.”
Weger also said there’s evidence that two other men killed the women.
“They ruined my life,” he said.
Andy Hale, one of Weger’s attorneys, said, “It’s a happy day and a sad day. Happy that Chester is being released but sad to think he lost 60 years.”
On Friday morning, Weger and his family were driving to Chicago where he will live in the St. Leonard’s halfway house in the West Loop.
They stopped at a McDonald’s where he had a bacon and egg sandwich, said Celeste Stack, another one of Weger’s lawyers, who was at the prison when he was freed.
“Watching him with his first McDonald’s meal ever put into perspective just how much things have changed since 1960,” Stack said.
Weger, who suffers from asthma and arthritis, was paroled in November by a vote of 9 to 4 after years of rejections.
Based on his confession, Weger was convicted of killing Lillian Oetting, 50, but he wasn’t tried in the deaths of her friends Mildred Lindquist, also 50, and Frances Murphy, 47.
On March 14, 1960, the three Riverside women were killed while they were hiking at Starved Rock State Park, about 100 miles southwest of Chicago in LaSalle County.
Oetting’s granddaughter Diane Oetting attended the November parole hearing in Springfield and urged the parole board to vote against Weger’s release, saying, “If you let him go today, does that mean the crime wasn’t brutal?”
But board member D. Wayne Dunn called for his release, saying Weger always maintained his innocence and was a model prisoner, for the most part.
Weger confessed to the killings after months of denying he did it. His attorneys have pointed to evidence that officials told him he would die in the electric chair if he didn’t confess.
They also say it’s improbable that a skinny, 5-foot-8 man could have overpowered three women by himself.
Weger almost immediately recanted his confession. In 1961, the Sun-Times reported that a juror told the newspaper she regretted her decision to convict him.
Weger gave his confession before police were required to issue Miranda warnings and follow other safeguards to ensure a suspect’s rights, Stack said.
“We are very happy that Chester Weger was released today to his family who were waiting at the prison door in a van stocked with provisions for Chester’s new life after 60 years of incarceration,” she said.