Illini football players plead not guilty to burglary, theft

Updated: March 5, 2007, 6:49 PM ET
Associated Press

URBANA, Ill. -- Illinois football players Jody Ellis and Derrick McPhearson -- accused of stealing wallets, cell phones and laptop computers -- were kicked off the team Monday just hours after pleading not guilty to felony burglary and theft charges.

"This kind of behavior will not be tolerated. It is not only disrespectful to this football team, but to the University of Illinois, as well," coach Ron Zook said.

"We will act right and we will obey the law. Period."

The two wide receivers were arrested Friday night after police found suspected stolen wallets, cell phones, electronic devices and at least six laptop computers inside Ellis' car, Champaign police Chief R. T. Finney said Monday.

Ellis and McPhearson, both 20, pleaded not guilty to four counts each of residential burglary and two counts each of theft of property and requested jury trials. After hearing the players' pleas, Champaign County Circuit Court Judge John R. Kennedy set a pretrial hearing for April 10.

Ellis and McPhearson were arrested after allegedly driving away from the scene of a minor accident in Ellis' 1995 Honda Accord. The accident with another vehicle occurred shortly after 8 p.m. at an intersection near the University of Illinois campus, Finney said. Police pulled over Ellis' Honda 10 minutes later.

"Shortly thereafter the officers began to find items in the car that didn't belong to them," in the car's interior and in the trunk, Finney said. "There were wallets and IDs belonging to other people."

State's Attorney Julia Rietz said the items were taken from four Champaign residences in and around campus on Friday, during what's called unofficial St. Patrick's Day. The event is a promotion begun by local bars to make up for revenue they lose when St. Patrick's Day falls during the university's spring break.

Rietz said it appeared that most victims had left their doors unlocked.

"I think [Ellis and McPhearson] might have been taking advantage of people who were not [cautious] on unofficial St. Patrick's Day," Rietz said, adding that the investigation was ongoing.

Ellis, from the Chicago suburb of Evanston, and McPhearson, from Hyattsville, Md., each posted $2,500 bail and were released from Champaign County Jail Sunday afternoon.

Both played in all 12 Illini games in 2006, their sophomore season, and were expected to compete for playing time next season.

The arrests are the latest in a series of recent legal run-ins for Illini athletes.

Basketball player Rich McBride on Thursday pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and is scheduled to be sentenced May 1. The 6-foot-3 senior guard was arrested on Sept. 29 in Savoy, a small town just south of Champaign, and is scheduled to be sentenced May 1.

He was suspended for four regular-season games after the arrest and will face no further discipline, school officials have said.

Sophomore guard Jamar Smith pleaded not guilty last month to charges that he left the scene of the accident and drove while intoxicated during a Feb. 12 accident that left teammate Brian Carlwell hospitalized for four days with a severe concussion.

He will not play again this season.

Athletic director Ron Guenther said the past few weeks have been difficult for the university's athletic programs, adding that removing Ellis and McPhearson from the football team was the right thing to do.

"We have set a high standard for student-athlete behavior, and it should be," Guenther said. "Our kids get a tremendous amount of support from all areas of the department. Therefore after reviewing this incident, it was in the best interest of both parties that the athletes be dismissed and their scholarships not renewed."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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