Marquette Heights man gets 27½ years for fatal stabbing of IVC grad

Andy Kravetz GateHouse Media Illinois
Bryan J. Stewart; Todd Scholl

A Marquette Heights man pleaded guilty Oct. 7 and was sentenced to 27½ years in prison for fatally stabbing a Downtown Peoria nightclub owner to death a year ago.

Bryan J. Stewart, 30, of 106 Yates Road, pleaded guilty in Peoria County Circuit Court to aggravated arson and second-degree murder in connection with the Oct. 2, 2013, death of Todd Scholl, who was found stabbed and burned in a first-floor storage room in a building at 111 SW Perry Ave.

In return for his plea, prosecutors agreed to drop a first-degree murder charge and a lesser arson count. Second-degree murder is when a defendant believes he had to use deadly force to fend off a person, but that belief has been deemed “unreasonable.”

The plea, which could allow Stewart to be released from custody after slightly more than 15 years in prison, was the product of intense negotiations. Just before he took the deal, he met with his family, who have been at several hearings.

Had he gone to trial and lost on all charges, Stewart would have faced at least 26 years behind bars with the main difference being any sentence for first-degree murder must be served completely. His 20-year sentence on second-degree murder is eligible for “day for day” good-time credit. Stewart will serve about 85 percent of his 7½-year sentence for aggravated arson.

Stewart had long maintained he acted in self-defense when he stabbed Scholl that night.

Firefighters and police found Scholl’s body around 11:30 p.m., when they responded to the building fire, said prosecutor Bryan FitzSimons. Several people were evacuated from apartments above the storage area, which was the basis for the aggravated arson count.

FitzSimons told Judge David Brown two fires were set on the first floor, one in a front room and one in the back storage room where Scholl was found. That fire was actually set on his body, the prosecutor said in open court. An autopsy revealed Scholl was stabbed three times in the front and twice in the back. When questioned about a week later, Stewart initially denied being in the building but later admitted he was there and claimed he had been attacked by Scholl, the prosecutor said.

Stewart told police that Scholl fell on the knife and that he had to stab him two more times to get the nightclub owner off him. FitzSimons, however, noted there were more injuries to Scholl’s body.

Police were able to hone in on Stewart by looking at Scholl’s cellphone records which indicated he was to meet a person at the building around the time of the fire. Earlier that evening, a bartender at Berlin, one of the clubs Scholl owned, told police that a person came into the building looking for Scholl and tried to buy a drink with a credit card but that the card was rejected.

FitzSimons said that person was the same person who was planning to meet Scholl that night — Bryan J. Stewart.

Scholl is a 1984 Illinois Valley Central High School graduate.