On June 29, 1972, the United States Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision ruling capital punishment, as applied then, unconstitutional. Every state that wanted to use the death penalty would have to rewrite its laws to pass muster, and not until later did the court approve its restoration.
That was lucky timing for Carl Reimann. On the evening of Dec. 29, 1972, the 31-year-old ex-convict, accompanied by girlfriend Betty Piche, went into the Pine Village Steak House in Yorkville wielding a semiautomatic pistol. The pair took about $640 from the cash register and from the five people who were present at the outset, and told a family that entered during the robbery to sit down. Reimann and Piche then headed for the door.
But he was not done. Before leaving, a state appeals court later recounted, “Reimann methodically, carefully and slowly shot the five original parties in the restaurant.” All five died of their wounds, including 16-year-old Catherine Rekate, a part-time dishwasher, and George Pashade, the 75-year-old chef. The family that arrived during the holdup was spared, apparently because Reimann’s gun was empty.
Police caught him and Piche soon after they fled in a car. Convicted of five counts of murder and one count of armed robbery, he was sentenced to 50 to 150 years for the murders and 20 to 30 years for the robbery, to be served concurrently.
Illinois restored the death penalty in 1977 to comply with the requirements established by the Supreme Court. (It was repealed in 2011.) Had it been available when Reimann carried out his massacre, he might well have been sent to death row; otherwise, he almost certainly would have gotten life without parole.
Instead, he’s a free man. On April 26, the Illinois Prisoner Review Board voted to release him from the Dixon Correctional Center, and he left that day. That’s a shame, because the only just outcome would have been for him to die in prison.
If you wonder why some Americans continue to support the death penalty, this case offers a good answer. When a murderer is executed, the matter is closed. When he is not, there is the danger that 45 years later, a parole board or a governor will decide the killer has suffered enough, has been rehabilitated and deserves the chance to return to society.
Rehabilitation and parole are legitimate goals for many prison inmates. But for someone who cold-bloodedly murdered five people, there should be no possibility of freedom, ever. Illinois law recognizes as much: Today, Kendall County State’s Attorney Eric Weis noted last week, a conviction for two or more murders would lead to a sentence of life without parole.
The review board had refused on 19 previous occasions to let Reimann out, but this time it agreed by an 8-4 vote, citing his “apparently sincere” religious conversion and his work in hospice care at Dixon.
Those resume items may be commendable, but compared to the horror he wrought, they carry scant weight. Reimann could have left the steakhouse with his $640 haul and the robbery victims could have gone on to live long, happy and useful lives. Instead, he cruelly slaughtered them.
Had her life been spared, Cathy Rekate would be 61 today. She didn’t get to live to the old age that Reimann has attained. She and the other victims will never be released from the place he sent them. Never would have been the right time to release him.