Man sentenced to 40 years in 1997 death of teen girl

Posted at 6:17 PM, Jan 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-20 19:35:07-05

A 20-year-old cold case murder came to an end Friday after a Racine County Judge sentenced a man to 40 years in prison.

James Eaton was sentenced in the death of 14-year-old Amber Creek in 1997.

Creek went missing after she ran away from a Chicago juvenile home. Her body was found a week later in a wooded area of Racine County.

Authorities say she was physically and sexually abused and had blunt force trauma injures. She died by suffocation.

It wasn't until new DNA testing in 2014 that authorities arrested James Eaton. Police say his fingerprints were found on a garbage bag around Creek's head.

In 2016, Eaton pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of reckless homicide. He did not go to trial.

"Her interface with you was her death sentence," said Racine County Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz to James Eaton in court Friday.

Gasiorkiewicz spoke at length to Eaton, detailing the crime and admonishing him for what happened.

"You can not take a troubled teenager, physically abuse her, sexually abuse her and then kill her," said Gasiorkiewicz. "That's not acceptable in our world."

Eaton spoke in court prior to sentencing, giving his first apology since the case began.

"I wish there was something I could say or do to take away the pain they've suffered, somehow change what happened," said Eaton. "I know though that I cannot change the past. All I can say is how very sorry I am about what happened."

Amber Creek's family also spoke in court, including her stepmom, father and two of her brothers.

One of her brothers was brought to tears, saying her death left a hole in their hearts.

"He's right, no matter what I do today that hole will never be filled," said Gasiorkiewicz.

Creek's stepmom told the judge that Amber was dramatic, great at poetry and singing, and could play the violin.

She said that Amber was a troubled girl, a child trapped in a woman's body. And that she suffered abuse as a child and was seeing doctors for her emotional trauma.

Amber had once told her family "it was easier to be high, homeless, and on the run than to face her pain."

Eaton's attorney told the judge that Eaton is not the same man as he was when he was 19 years old, and that he was unlikely to commit another crime.

However, Judge Gasiorkiewicz said even if that was the case and Eaton turned his life around, he had to be held accountable for what happened 20 years ago.

The judge handed down the maximum sentence of 40 years in prison, at which point, Amber Creek's family burst into tears. 

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