Friend held in officer's fatal shooting

By Virginia Groark
TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER - June 6, 2000

Greg Sears
Greg Sears

A childhood friend of slain Hampshire Police Sgt. Greg Sears stood quietly in court Saturday morning as a Kane County judge ordered him held on $5 million bond, one day after he was charged with the first slaying in the small Kane County community.

John Carroccia, 50, of Rockford, did not speak during the hearing, except to say he understood he had been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of Sears. The body of the 50-year-old police officer, who was married less than a month ago, was found face-down in an industrial park Thursday with three gunshot wounds to the head.

Though Carroccia was silent, his lawyer and brother maintained he was innocent.

"I feel very bad for Greg Sears' family, and we've had a big loss too," Nick Carroccia said after the hearing. "This is all new for us. We're people of the community. He's lost a very dear friend and he's grieving over that and finds himself incarcerated for something he didn't do."

Carroccia could face the death penalty if he is convicted, said Kane County Judge Donald C. Hudson.

Carroccia was arrested at Sears' home Friday, where he had been talking with Sears' parents and wife, Norma Jean. The arrest marked the end of a bizarre day in which the small village of 2,500 struggled with the loss of its longtime juvenile officer, only to learn the suspect was the person who was originally supposed to be best man at Sears' May 13 wedding.

"It's a shock," said Hampshire Patrolman Ron Malloy. "We caught ... the suspect within 23 hours. You feel good about that. But it was a great loss, especially if you worked with the guy. He was my sergeant.

"It puts being a cop in perspective," he added.

Sears was killed on his first day back to work since he took a medical leave after suffering a minor stroke. His body was found on a dead-end road in Elgiloy Industrial Park, near the intersection of U.S. Highway 20 and Interstate Highway 90. Both of his guns were in holsters. His squad car was about 20 feet away, its parking lights on, the engine running and the driver's door unlocked.

Sears and Carroccia had been friends since childhood, according to Sears' wife. The two had drifted apart since Carroccia began dating a woman with whom Sears previously had a relationship, Sears' wife said.

A motive for the shooting remained unclear Saturday, authorities said. Hampshire Police Commissioner Tom Brown has said Sears received several threatening calls in recent months.

When Carroccia was arrested at her home, Norma Jean Sears was "just at a total loss for words and emotions," she said."They grew up together. They played together. They were the best of friends."

Sears' mother, Helen, said Carroccia had visited the home twice Friday, in the morning and in the late afternoon.

"He was trying to keep up on what was going on," she said.

Kane County Sheriff Kenneth Ramsey said he doesn't expect any other charges to be filed. There are no other suspects, he said.

On Saturday, Carroccia's attorney, Stephen Komie, argued that the $5 million bond was unreasonable and compared it to a "ransom fee for the king of England."

He noted that Carroccia was a lifelong resident of the community, did not travel and had never been arrested before.

But Ramsey said the bond was warranted because of the seriousness of the charges and the circumstances.

A wake for Sears will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday in United Methodist Church, 119 E. Washington St., Marengo.

Services, with full police honors, will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday in the church.