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Murder charges in DCFS worker’s death

Rock Falls man also has bond increased to $1 million

MOUNT CARROLL – The Rock Falls man who investigators say kicked a DCFS worker in the head, causing severe brain damage and her eventual death, now faces five counts of first-degree murder.

Pamela Knight, 59, of Dixon, died Feb. 8 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago of “complications of blunt force head injuries due to assault,” the Cook County medical examiner’s office ruled.

Andrew Sucher, 25, of Rock Falls, was indicted Thursday on the new charges, and appeared in Carroll County Court on Friday to hear them. His bond also was increased to $1 million.

Sucher faces 20 to 60 years in prison without probation, unless aggravating factors that might extend his sentence are determined, in which case he would face 60 to 100 years, up to life. He would not be eligible for any day-for-day or “good” time; he would have to serve the full term.

Among the aggravating factors that qualify for the more severe sentence is killing a person while committing another felony.

Sucher can be convicted of only one count of murder.

Carroll County State’s Attorney Scott Brinkmeier has charged him with five counts, each of which has different elements that must be proven – essentially, that Sucher intended to kill or do great bodily harm to Knight (or knew that his actions would do so); or that he knew his actions created a strong probability of causing her death or great bodily harm.

Multiple counts of the same charge are common in homicide cases, because it gives jurors different theories of the crime to consider when deciding guilt.

Sucher still also is charged with aggravated battery causing great bodily harm and aggravated battery of a state employee, each of which carries 2 to 5 years in prison – seven felony charges in all.

He initially was indicted Dec. 7 on three counts – the two battery charges, as well as attempted first-degree murder.

Also Friday, Judge John “Jerry” Kane placed a report on Sucher’s mental evaluation under seal, and set a hearing for 1:15 p.m. March 9, at which time Sucher’s public defender, Colleen Buckwalter, will decide if she wants a fitness hearing based on its contents.

The purpose of the report, done at Buckwalter’s request by Dr. Joel Eckert of Peoria, is to help determine, among other things, whether Sucher is fit to stand trial, is able to aid in his own defense, and whether he was sane at the time of the attack of which he is accused.

Brinkmeier noted Friday that all defendants are presumed fit, and said he didn’t see anything in Sucher’s evaluation to indicate otherwise.

Because Buckwalter requested the evaluation, though, it is her decision whether to request a fitness hearing, and she had not yet had time to talk to her client about it, she said.

Sucher also is charged with aggravated battery of a peace officer, which carries 3 to 7 years.

Officials say he was being moved to another cell in the Carroll County Jail on Dec. 19 when he became “verbally combative” and punched Chief Deputy Craig Dimmick in the face. He subsequently was transferred to Stephenson County, where he remains.

Bond in that case is $75,000.

The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Sucher is accused of fracturing Knight’s skull, causing permanent brain damage that also led to extensive physical disabilities.

In the 4 and a half months since the attack, she underwent five “major surgical procedures.” She spent the first 2 months in a coma, and in the last few weeks of her life was being treated at Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in Chicago, trying to learn how to communicate using eye movements and undergoing physical therapy to help her regain movement in her arms and legs.

At the time of her death, “she could move her left finger half an inch and her neck to the right a few inches. She couldn’t talk, she couldn’t walk, she couldn’t eat or swallow,” her daughter, Jennifer Hollenbeck, said in Facebook postings.

She was admitted to Northwestern Memorial 4 days before her death for unspecified emergency surgery.

The veteran Department of Children and Family Services worker, who was based in Sterling, was taking a 2-year-old into protective custody that day.

She went to Sucher’s home first, with a police escort, and when no one was there, she went to his parents’ home in Milledgeville, which is in another county and police jurisdiction. She did not ask for assistance from village police.

She was attacked shortly after she got out of her car around 5:45 p.m.

​Sucher also has pleaded not guilty in Whiteside County to aggravated battery of a child, which carries 2 to 5 years, and battery, domestic battery, and interfering with the reporting of a domestic battery, all misdemeanors.

He is accused of dragging a 6-year-old by the foot and striking him in the face with a squirt gun, and of throwing a woman against a wall and taking her phone in a July 29 incident.

He was out on bond in that case when Knight was attacked. It’s on hold while the Carroll County cases proceed.

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