Charges dropped against Ill. man after another man's DNA found at scene of girls' slayings

A northern Illinois man jailed on first-degree murder charges in the 2005 stabbing deaths of his daughter and another young girl was a free man Wednesday after prosecutors dropped charges because DNA evidence from the crime scene matched that of another man.

Jerry Hobbs, 39, arrived at the brief court hearing in a blue prison jumpsuit and handcuffs, and a short time later — after changing his clothes — was released from custody, according to the Lake County Jail.

"We're glad that Jerry has been released today," said Keith Grant, an assistant public defender. "It's been a long time coming."

Hobbs had pleaded not guilty in the stabbing deaths of his 8-year-old daughter, Laura, and her friend, 9-year-old Krystal Tobias in Zion, about 50 miles north of Chicago.

Last month, prosecutors in Lake County announced that DNA from the crime scene matched another man who once lived in Zion but was in custody in Virginia after being charged in two attacks on women.

The DNA match came on June 25 from a national database, where the man's DNA had been recently entered, according to Lake County Deputy State's Attorney Jeffrey Pavletic. Prosecutors then relaunched their investigation.

The man in custody in Virginia has not been charged in the 2005 Zion deaths.

Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller said he was not convinced that Hobbs didn't have a role in the killings, but he said he didn't believe the case could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

"The priority at this point is holding somebody responsible for these murders," he said at a news conference. "We're working as quickly as we can."

Waller's office declined to comment further on the case.

Hobbs was en route to Texas on Wednesday, according to the suburban Chicago office of Kathleen Zellner, a prominent defense attorney hired by Hobb's mother, JoAnn Hobbs of Wichita Falls, Texas.

"After over five years, I might get him back but he will never be the same," JoAnn Hobbs told the Chicago Tribune.

Jerry Hobbs declined to be interviewed, Zellner's office said.

Message left Wednesday for Hobb's public defender Keith Grant were not returned.

In May 2005, Jerry Hobbs reported finding the girls' bodies near their homes in Zion. Both had been stabbed numerous times.

Prosecutors alleged Hobbs killed them because he was angry his daughter was outside when she was supposed to be home. Police said Hobbs confessed to the slayings, but his attorneys said the confession was coerced.

Both defense attorneys and prosecutors have acknowledged there was no physical evidence linking Hobbs to the killings.