BENTON, Ill. – A jury returned a guilty verdict Thursday against a Southern Illinois man accused of fatally stabbing an acquaintance in the heart nearly two years ago.

The Franklin County State’s Attorney’s Office said Heath Dunning, of Eldorado, was convicted of first-degree murder and being a felon in possession of a weapon, following a three-day trial.

The murder took place on the evening of April 15, 2021. Prosecutors said Dunning and Dennis Martin were traveling on State Route 149 near New Lake Road.

At the time, Dunning was driving Martin’s van. The two men got into an argument about Dunning’s route. Martin attempted to take the keys from the ignition, and Dunning responded by taking a knife and plunging it into his friend’s chest. The knife slide between Martin’s ribs and pierced his heart.

Dunning parked the van in a nearby driveway and called 911. Paramedics arrived and declared Martin dead at the scene. Martin was 50.

Dunning, 35, had previously been convicted in Saline County for aggravated battery, criminal damage to property, and burglary, and was awaiting sentencing when the murder occurred.