Self-defense claim in stabbing death of Peoria nightclub owner

Andy Kravetz GateHouse Media Illinois
Bryan Stewart

A Marquette Heights man claimed he acted in self-defense when he allegedly stabbed a Downtown Peoria nightclub owner to death last week.

Peoria County Judge Kim Kelley stopped Bryan J. Stewart, 29, of 106 Yates Road, from saying more during the video bonding session, saying he could possibly incriminate himself. Stewart made the statement while incarcerated at the Peoria County Jail.

Stewart faces a charge of first-degree murder and aggravated arson for the Oct. 2 death of Todd Scholl, who was found stabbed and burned in a storage room in a building at 105 SW Perry Ave. He was ordered held on $1.5 million bond pending a Nov. 7 preliminary hearing.

Assistant State’s Attorney Dave Kenny said police found Scholl’s body when they responded to the building fire. Several people were evacuated out of apartments above the storage area, he said, which was the basis for the aggravated arson count.

Scholl suffered stab wounds to his front and back and was burned from the air. Stewart told police he went to the building with Scholl to look over a job Scholl had for him. Once there, Scholl made sexual advances towards Stewart and when rebuffed, allegedly pulled out a knife and put it to Stewart’s throat, Stewart told police.

A fight ensued, and Stewart gained control of the weapon. Kenny said Stewart told police Scholl had “run into the knife.”

Stewart told police Scholl wound up on top of him while he was seated in a barber’s chair. Stewart, the prosecutor said, reached around, stabbed Scholl in the back and then pushed him off him and onto the floor.

“Upset over the alleged sexual assault, the defendant decided to set the crotch of Mr. Scholl on fire,” Kenny said in open court. Stewart claimed no accelerant was used but Kenny said fire investigators found evidence of accelerant being used in two different locations in the room to start the fire.

As Kenny was recalling the allegations, Stewart, clad in a faded black T-shirt and jeans, leaned on the lectern. He sighed occasionally and when the prosecutor finished, wiped his face with his hands.

Police were able to zero in on Stewart as a video tape showed the two men walking from Berlin nightclub to the Perry Avenue building. One of the bartenders at Berlin also remembered the man who was with Scholl that night had tried to pay for his tab with a credit card but the card was rejected. Using that information, the police were able to identify Stewart.

Kenny also said police had done a preliminary examination of Stewart’s cell phone and found text messages between himself and Scholl. Stewart, the prosecutor said, appeared to have initiated the text-message sequence with Scholl.

If convicted, Stewart faces up to 60 years in prison on the murder counts and up to 30 years in prison on the arson charge.