© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ron Dozier, Prosecutor Who Brought Hendricks To Trial, Dies At Age 73

Ron Dozier
Eleventh Judicial Circuit
Retired Judge Ron Dozier, who was born in Mill Shoals in southern Illinois, survived a near-death health scare in 2015. He and his wife, former county Auditor Jackie Dozier, had four sons.

Colleagues are remembering the life and career of former McLean County state’s attorney and retired judge Ron Dozier, who died Monday after a long illness. He was 73.

Dozier crafted a reputation as a tough but fair prosecutor and judge who was guided by his deep faith and country upbringing in deep southern Illinois. Dozier spent his retirement continuing to serve as a reserve sheriff’s deputy and helping ex-offenders return to their communities.

Ron Dozier
Credit Steve Vogel / Facebook
Retired judge Ron Dozier died Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, according to his family's CaringBridge page.

Dozier, who was the county’s top prosecutor from 1976 to 1987, is perhaps best known for bringing charges against David Hendricks in the brutal 1983 slaying of his wife and three children in Bloomington.

Alan Sender, a former Bloomington-Normal reporter who became Dozier’s friend, recalls being in the state’s attorney’s office the day Dozier returned from an off-the-record discussion with Hendricks on the eve of his first trial. (The exchange was famously documented in Steve Vogel’s book about the Hendricks case, called “Reasonable Doubt.”)

“Ron came back shaken,” Sender said. “Ron was really shaken, because David had pretty much convinced him he was innocent.”

Hendricks was ultimately convicted at that trial, but the Illinois Supreme Court overturned that conviction. Hendricks was acquitted at a second trial and later moved to Florida.

“Some of it goes to Ron’s religious beliefs,” Sender said. “Even acting as a prosecutor or as a judge, he balanced what he had to do from a professional basis, dealing with people who were on the wrong side of the law, which he found reprehensible, while at the same time feeling very strongly about the religious issues around forgiveness and the benefit of every person.”

Dozier’s colleagues say his faith also guided him to his work with the Joy Care Center, a nonprofit that helped ex-offenders break the chains of recidivism and become productive members of society.

“Think about that for a moment: You’ve spent a career prosecuting people, and then judging people, and maybe that’s a good way to open your mind about all the nuances of human behavior,” said Fourth District Appellate Court Judge James A. Knecht, who went to law school with Dozier. “For a prosecutor who was known as tough but fair to then want to help people who came out of a penitentiary, I think that’s both interesting and somewhat unusual.”

Dozier was appointed a judge in 1987 and served on the bench until his retirement in 2006. During that time he worked hard to craft sentences that took into account the full lives of those appearing in front of him, said Beth Robb, a friend and former colleague and now retired chief judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit.

“He really believed in the ability of a person to be a better person. Second chances, third chances, fourth chances—Ron was always willing to gives the person the benefit of the doubt,” Robb said. 

Dozier became famous—and faced a lot of criticism—for one of his most unorthodox sentencings.

During his 1993 sentencing for a woman who abused her baby, Dozier ordered her to have a contraceptive device implanted. Dozier faced backlash over the sentence from civil liberties groups, and the case received national attention. Illinois State University Professor Emeritus Bob Bradley chose the case as one of the most notable in state history during the 2018 Illinois Bicentennial celebration.

The woman’s troubled past (and her time in state care) was a “big part of (Dozier’s) reasoning,” Bradley said during a 2018 interview on WGLT’s Sound Ideas.

“‘Why should I sentence her to prison and sort of compound the evil the state has done to her?’ She’s a product of the state’s welfare system that had not gone well at all, and he felt some obligation to figure out some other way, to think out of the box on this. And he did,” Bradley said.

State legislators soon passed a law that stopped judges from ordering surgical procedures.

Dozier, an Army veteran, stayed busy in retirement. He worked as a reserve deputy for the McLean County Sheriff’s Department, under then-Sheriff Mike Emery. Dozier also returned to briefly lead the McLean County state’s attorney’s office in 2011-12 after Bill Yoder became a judge and before Jason Chambers became the top prosecutor. During that time Dozier, a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, made headlines again when he announced plans to stop prosecuting certain types of gun-related offenses.

Emery said Dozier was firm and fair as a judge and prosecutor, and big-hearted as a person.

“That’s what is most important about the Judge. He was always giving, in either trying to do the right thing, or trying to convince people to do the right thing,” Emery said.

Dozier, who was born in Mill Shoals in southern Illinois, survived a near-death health scare in 2015. He and his wife, former county Auditor Jackie Dozier, had four sons.

Dozier’s family announced his death late Monday on his CaringBridge page.

People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.