Six years after 3-year-old Riley Fox was assaulted and killed, Scott Wayne Eby was charged with her murder. Brought into court through the backdoor of the courthouse, the 38-year-old entered a not guilty plea through his public defender. He did not speak during the 2-minute court appearance, but did glance over at Riley's mother, Melissa Fox.
Eby, who has an extensive criminal history, lived just 10 blocks away from the Foxes. Also, a pair of shoes with his last name were found by police in 2004 near the murder scene.
For the first time, Fox spoke about the revelations that could have led authorities to Eby much earlier.
"It's beyond just stupidity. And of course I'm angry," she said. "We're all angry. We had so much evidence right there. It seems like they had all the pieces to the puzzle right in front of them. But they created evidence against Kevin instead."
Kevin Fox was wrongfully charged with Riley's murder after making a wrongful confession.
"We want to obviously consider the feelings of the Fox family," said Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow. "They've gone through an ordeal over the past six years, and I'm sensitive to that. We want to make sure that anything I can do to ease that pain, we're going to do from my position."
It remains unclear whether the death penalty will be sought.
"We are in active discussions with the State's Attorney about it, so they're definitely consulting with the family," said Fox family attorney Kathleen Zellner. "We're talking about it."
Eby is currently serving prison time for sexually assaulting a relative about a year after Riley Fox was murdered.
Riley Fox's body was found in the Forked River hours after she was abducted from her home. She had been sleeping on her family's living room couch before the kidnapping.
Botched police investigation?
Sources say Eby's last name was written on a pair of shoes found at the crime scene in June 2004. Instead of following up on the lead, the shoes were placed into evidence, where they stayed locked away for more than five years.
The investigation went on for years with no arrests. Investigators focused on Riley's father, Kevin Fox, who was later cleared by DNA evidence. Kevin Fox served eight months in jail before the DNA test.
"I still had people coming up to me saying I was a child molester, a child killer," Kevin Fox recently told ABC's 20/20.
In Eby's case, investigators say DNA evidence, as well as the shoes, now connect him to Riley's murder.
"I think they deliberately did it because they didn't want anything to interfere with their theory that Kevin was guilty," said Zellner.
Despite the shoes and the fact that the convicted burglar with an extensive criminal history was on parole and lived ten blocks away, Eby only became a suspect in Fox's murder after the FBI stepped in last year.
Zellner says she just became aware of the shoes within the last few weeks after authorities filed murder charges against Eby. She says the shoes were just one piece of possible evidence against Eby that investigators overlooked. The same DNA that excluded Kevin Fox now implicates Eby.
"I think they should look into obstruction of justice charges because that's exactly what happened here," said Zellner. "They never even did a criminal background check. You would have seen that he had burglary convictions. You would have seen that he was on parole. You would have made a connection with the shoes at the scene."
Will County's sheriff apologized to the Fox family last month when Eby was charged. The current state's attorney has also apologized for his predecessor's handling of the case.
The little girl's body and the shoes were found in Wilmington Creek. Less than an hour after Riley was found in the water, a searcher discovered a pair of athletic shoes. The shoes had "Eby" written in the tongue. Experts say investigators could have easily traced the shoes to the Illinois Department of Corrections where Eby got them. He was on parole for burglary at the time.
Zellner says had the authorities looked at the shoes, the crime possibly could have been solved within days of the murder.
"When Will County looked at the shoes and looked at the tongue, they should have thought, 'Boy, these are probably prison shoes. We need to find out who is on parole.' And the person on parole at the time was Eby," said Zellner.
It is alleged investigators also failed to fully investigate a nearby restroom where Eby has apparently told police he sexually assaulted the girl before throwing her into the water.
Eby has since confessed to the crime, saying he had intended to rob the Fox home just as he had apparently done at another house across the street, but he instead abducted Riley.
Kevin Fox and his ex-wife, Melissa, have been awarded an $8 million federal judgment in the case for wrongful prosecution.
"I'm still in shock. I have no words to even explain how I feel," Kevin told ABC News' David Muir.
"I needed to know what happened to her and what she went through," said Melissa Fox. "He stole something very important from the world. She's gone. And there's not this amazing girl here anymore, but there's disgusting people like him."
The FBI is now heavily involved in the case.
We want to make www.abc7chicago.com even better. We hope you will take a few minutes to share your thoughts about our Web site ... Just Click Here to Begin!