I-Team Investigation: 20 years later - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

I-Team Investigation: 20 years later

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George Huite George Huite
Janet Huite Janet Huite
"They moved in right behind us and we become, instant friends I guess", said Darren Wortman, who grew up with Onie Huite. "They moved in right behind us and we become, instant friends I guess", said Darren Wortman, who grew up with Onie Huite.
WEST FRANKFORT, IL (KFVS) - A 27 year old West Frankfort, Illinois man was found shot to death in the hotel room he lived in. Was it suicide, or something else?

Twenty years later, his case remains open and his family says they remain determined to learn the truth.

"It was a lot of love. We had a lot of love."

With six kids, George and Janet Huite had a lot of commotion in their cluttered but cozy West Frankfort home.

"My kids were good kids", Janet said. "Were they perfect? Oh, Lordy no. But, we got the job done."

George Junior, the youngest, landed an unusual nickname early on when sister Jeannie couldn't say "junior."

"And it come out Ooner, which in turn they shortened it to Onie (pronounced OO-nee)", Jeannie Branch recalled.

What were you two like growing up? I asked her.

"Cats and dogs", Branch said. "It was the battle of the babies. He was the baby boy. I was the baby girl."

"They moved in right behind us and we become, instant friends I guess", said Darren Wortman, who grew up with Onie Huite.

"Oh, he was a great guy, the best guy, best kind of guy," Wortman said. "He'd do anything for you. He'd give you the shirt off his back."

Onie grew up, moved out and made his living as a maintenance worker at a local nursing home.

He called Room four of the 37 Motel home in August 1993.

Just after midnight on August 12, 1993, a neighbor and friend found 27-year-old George Onie Huite dead on his hotel bed with a contact wound to the upper left side of his chest from his own .410 gauge shotgun.

"And I was like what?" Jeannie said. "And she told me again. And I'm like, Ok. Wait a minute. Wake up."

Crime scene photos show no signs of a struggle in the small room, the gun lying at his feet.

"I can't explain how it hit me", Jeannie said. "I still can't explain how it hit me because it was like, no, really?"

At 27-year-old, Onie Huite had a good job, a five year old son, and no reason, say family and friends, to commit suicide.

Was he the kind of guy who would have taken his own life? I asked Wortman.

"No, not at all", Wortman said.

And why do you say that?

"Cuz I know him, cuz I knew him," Wortman said. "I mean we was best friends for however many years. No, he wouldn't have done that. There ain't no way."

Instead of a suicide note, police found a note written to Onie by a married female co-worker, along with two pictures of her. The note expressed her interest in him, and the hope that he might feel the same.

Jeannie Branch recalls getting little out of authorities.

"At the time, I was wanting to hope it was because it was fresh and they were still gathering information", she said. "And even after the fact, when I thought we deserved to know what was going on and why, we wasn't getting nothing."

Onie Huite had a blood alcohol level of .15 when he died.

Police found no usable prints on his shotgun, and no match to a bloody fingerprint on his hotel door.

While the medical examiner ruled Huite's death a suicide, a coroner's jury found it to be undetermined. Although, members don't offer a clear reason why in this report. His death certificate reflects that same status.

The years went by, and the Huite family remained both numb and frustrated.

"When it first happened, we tried and tried to talk to people and find out things," said Janet. "And we just hit a dead end everywhere we went. And I shouldn't have I guess, but sometimes the pain is so bad you just, you just give up."

It would be six years before the Huite family heard anything new involving Onie's death, and it didn't come from police.

Instead, a bar fight in the neighboring town of Christopher, Illinois would lead to a disturbing new twist.

"I got a phone call from a friend of mine, telling me that their child was in jail due to a fight over my brother", Jeannie Branch tells me.

February 24, 1999. Two men allegedly beat up a third outside this Christopher bar. Jeannie Branch got not one, but two calls about it.

"I had another person come to my house, sit on my couch, and told me a really big story on someone admitting to this, to killing my brother. And it just blew me away."

These police reports show officers arrested two men on charges of assault. In one suspect's written statement to police that night, he said the victim made a chilling comment about his old friend Onie Huite. Jeannie reads his exact words.

"And he told me he killed Huite", Branch reads from that suspect's written statement to police.

I tracked down that first suspect and he tells me he stands by this statement. The victim of that fight was the husband of that woman whose note and photos were found in Huite's hotel room.

According to the victim's statement, the men got into an argument about the suspect's friend being shot and he said "so what". Police did not further investigate him in connection with Huite's death.

Jeannie says she took the bar fight stories she heard to West Frankfort Police.

"And they said that they would check into it. I don't know if they did", she said.

That brought Jeannie to me, and after several months of digging, brought us all to the West Frankfort Police Department.

I found Chief Shawn Talluto not only willing to help, but also knowledgeable about Onie's case. Back in 1999, a then detective Talluto investigated any possible connection between that bar fight, and the still open case involving Onie Huite's death.

"I knew George, because I went to school with him", Talluto said to Jeannie and her sister Debbie Hughes.

The chief then tells the sisters he's located the original case file on their brother's death.

"I found this in the files out stored away after Kathy contacted me", he told them.

According to the report, Onie Huite was last seen around 9:30 p.m. when a woman he knew came by the hotel.

She described Huite as pretty drunk. She also noticed the shotgun on his bedside table. After Huite's friend found his body shortly after midnight, the chief tells the women both the married co-worker and that woman's husband were interviewed by police.

"And this says 'note-officers verified both of the above party's whereabouts during the times in question. Both parties were accounted for", Talluto said.

He then lets Jeannie read through the report for herself.

Jeannie had you seen that before? I ask of the '93 report.

"No", she responds as she reads.

While the sisters don't want to look at the most graphic photos from the scene, the Chief gently describes that they show George did not immediately fall back after being shot.

"The blood pattern runs down the side of his torso onto his leg area and the reason why I say that, it was almost as if after the shooting occurred, he sat there for a period of time," Talluto said.

Talluto also reveals that, after the 1999 fight, he submitted fingerprint samples from a number of people, including the husband and wife, in an attempt to identify that 6 year old bloody fingerprint.

"March the second of 1999, I submitted the fingerprints", he said.

It came back matching the girlfriend of the neighbor who found Huite, a piece of information the family never heard before.

And they also got this pledge from the current chief, as long as their brother's case remains open.

"If there are leads to pursue on this case, I will pursue them,." Talluto said. "Just have to let you know that all I have in front of me is what I have. I need that closure."

Back at her home surrounded by family, Janet Huite says she wants to know, once and for all, what really happened to her youngest son.

"The Lord has gotten me through," said Janet. "He's carried me through all these years but deep down in my heart I just need to know what really happened. Will that change things? No. Will that bring him back to me? No."

I reached out to that fight victim.

His mother says he has no comment on that incident, or this story.

For her part, Jeannie Branch tells me she has renewed hope that, with Chief Talluto's efforts, her brother's case can be closed, even if the answers they get aren't the ones they want.

Chief Talluto asks anyone who thinks they may have information about George Huite's case to contact him at the West Frankfort Police Department at 618-937-3502 or tips@westfrankfortpd.com

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