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Illini football players plead not guilty to burglary, theft

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."