SUNNYLAND — As a birthday surprise Christmas morning, Christopher Cecil awoke to unexpected footsteps outside his bedroom door.
It wasn’t Santa Claus.
Husband-and-wife intruders had entered the house while Cecil and his girlfriend were sleeping, East Peoria police say. As the wife shrieked profanities, the husband came at Cecil, then his girlfriend, Cecil says.
The husband carried a weapon: a piece of metal.
Cecil also had a weapon: a .357-caliber pistol.
BOOM. One shot, and Christmas morning grew peaceful again.
“He had warnings,” Cecil said in frustration Tuesday. “I told the man at least 10 times to stop. He never said a thing, not even when he was shot.”
Casey Rice, 29, of Carbondale, was hospitalized Tuesday with a shoulder injury from Cecil’s blast. Rice and his wife, Jordan Rice, 27, also of Carbondale, told police the matter was just a drunken mistake: The pair thought they were entering the home of a relative. Both face charges; Cecil faces none.
Cecil, who turned 51 on Christmas morning, doesn’t believe the story — especially from Casey Rice, a repeat offender who is on parole for a Pekin bank robbery.
“If he thought it was his (relative’s) house, why didn’t he say, ‘I made a mistake’?” Cecil says.
His house is in the 100 block of Stahl Avenue, which has a mailing address of Washington yet sits under the police protection of East Peoria — part of an area commonly known as Sunnyland. Cecil says he and girlfriend, Sarah Smith, 31, were asleep in their bedroom early Christmas morning. Just after 2 a.m., he heard a bark of their puppy, who sleeps in the bathroom, then a thud from the living room.
The noise jostling the couple awake, Cecil peered toward the closed bedroom door. From the living room, a Christmas tree cast light under the door, allowing Cecil to see shadows of footsteps moving on the other side, he said.
He whispered to his girlfriend, “Someone’s in the house. Stay here.”
Cecil, who police say has a valid firearm owner's identification card and concealed-carry permit, reached into his nightstand to grab his loaded .357. He then moved to the bedroom door and pulled it open. He says he immediately encountered a woman, though he could barely see her.
He says he grabbed the woman (later identified as Jordan Rice) and spun her toward him, demanding, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
Rather than answer, he says, she yelled, “You devil! You psychotic s.o.b.!”
Cecil threw her to the ground and held her in place, he says. Meanwhile, he saw girlfriend Smith in the bedroom doorway, calling 911.
As the intruder kept shrieking, Cecil noticed the figure of a man several feet away, clutching something in his hand.
“He had a weapon,” Cecil says. “It (later) turned out to be a piece of cast iron, taken from the burner of my oven. But I didn’t (immediately) know what it was.”
Cecil says he called out, “Who are you?” The man, later identified as Casey Rice, came toward him, Cecil says.
“Stop!” Cecil says he ordered multiple times. “Get on the ground!”
Casey Rice ignored the command, then veered toward the bedroom, at Cecil’s girlfriend.
“That’s when I shot him,” Cecil says.
He fired just one round, into Casey Rice’s left shoulder, all the while pinning Jordan Rice to the ground. While waiting for police, Casey Rice said nothing while Cecil’s girlfriend grabbed a towel to help stanch the bleeding, Cecil says.
Police arrived minutes later.
“They handcuffed all of us,” Cecil says. “I understand that. They didn’t know who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. But I was a little upset that I was in my underwear on the ground outside.”
Soon, police uncuffed Cecil and Smith. Casey Rice was taken to a hospital, where he remained Tuesday with injuries that are not life-threatening. Jordan Rice was taken to Tazewell County Jail. Both were booked on charges of criminal trespass to a residence, which can be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on circumstances. State's Attorney Stewart Umholtz says a felony count would allege a defendant knew a residence was occupied. He says he will make that determination, as well as whether to file any further charges, after reviewing police reports.
East Peoria police Sgt. Brian Despines confirmed the account given by Cecil, with one discrepancy. The Rices told police they simply walked through the unlocked front door. But Cecil tells the Journal Star his front door was locked.
However, Despines says police, including crime-scene investigators with the Illinois State Police, found no evidence of tampering to the door.
“There were no signs of forced entry,” Despines says. “If it was jimmied, they didn’t leave any markings.”
Rather, Despines says, police thus far believe the account from the Rices: After drinking Christmas Eve with friends and family, they walked to the Stahl Avenue home, thinking it was the residence of a relative — who lives three blocks away.
Despines says, “This literally was bad-place, bad-time, wrong-time type of situation.”
Cecil doesn’t buy the couple’s story. If mistaken about the residence, they should’ve picked up obvious clues, he says.
“They walked past two unfamiliar cars parked in my driveway,” Cecil says. “The porch light was on. There were Christmas lights.”
Since July, Casey Rice has been on parole from the Illinois Department of Corrections after serving about half of a nine-year prison term from a 2012 guilty plea to a count of aggravated battery in Tazewell County. On Dec. 28, 2011, he entered Herget National Bank, 2201 E. Broadway, and demanded money from a teller. He implied he had a weapon but didn't display one. He left with $1,250 but was caught two days later in Pekin.
Rice had been free only 12 days before the robbery, after completing a 76-day jail term for possessing a hypodermic syringe. He had spent most of the past seven years in prison on several felony convictions in Peoria and Tazewell counties, including possessing a controlled substance, battery and forgery.
As for the Christmas shooting, no charges are expected against Cecil, says county prosecutor Umholtz. Cecil spent Christmas night under hospital care after experiencing severe chest pains indicative of a possible heart attack. He was discharged Monday.
“I don't know if it was the excitement or what,” he says.
As for Smith, he says, “She’s OK. We slept with the lights on (Monday) night.
“It’s traumatic for both of us. Shooting someone is never a good thing.”
Phil Luciano can be reached at email@example.com, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter @LucianoPhil. Nick Vlahos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (309) 686-3285. Follow him on Twitter @VlahosNick.