MONTICELLO – Drug use appears to be a common theme in the death of an Urbana man whose body was found Sunday in a field in Piatt County.
Two men have been charged with the murder of John E. Tash, 40, who lived at 1918 Brownfield Road.
Gerald Merritt Jr., 43, of Sidell, made his first appearance before Piatt County Judge John Shonkwiler on Wednesday morning after his arrest Monday. Authorities are still looking for Jerry Henderson, 46, of Mansfield. Acting on a tip Wednesday afternoon, authorities searched in the Centreville area for Henderson for almost eight hours but couldn't find him.
Both men were charged Monday with first-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated battery and concealment of a homicidal death in connection with the beating death May 17 of Mr. Tash.
Court records indicate that Brandi Kent, 29, of Farmer City told authorities that she was Mr. Tash's girlfriend and that on May 17 they went to Henderson's home in Mansfield for a drug sale.
She was upstairs and heard what she thought was a fight downstairs. When she went downstairs, she saw Mr. Tash, Henderson and Merritt. Mr. Tash and the room were covered with blood.
Kent was told to go back upstairs and later was taken in Henderson's pickup truck by Henderson and Merritt to a location near Mansfield where she saw the men remove Mr. Tash's body from the bed of the truck and dump him in a hedgerow.
Kent told authorities that Henderson later showed her a location between Mahomet and Fisher which he said was Mr. Tash's "final resting place."
Champaign County sheriff's deputies got a tip early last week that Mr. Tash had been killed. After deputies went to his Urbana home and learned he hadn't been there in several days, they forwarded the information to Piatt County authorities, who began investigating. It was on Sunday, June 25, that Mr. Tash's body was found.
About 12:30 a.m. Sunday, Judge Shonkwiler signed search warrants for Henderson's home, truck and cistern. Among items police were looking for, according to the search warrant application, were blood, tissue, fingerprints, a pointed object similar to a railroad stake, shovels, picks and human hairs. They also were looking for the cell phone of Mr. Tash, his Dell laptop computer and Kent's laptop computer.
Merritt told Shonkwiler on Wednesday that he is married but not employed and can't afford his own attorney. Shonkwiler appointed Monticello attorney Roger Simpson to represent him and set his next court date for July 3.
Kent, meanwhile, was returned to the Champaign County Jail on Sunday by Illinois State Police. She had been wanted on a warrant issued after her sentencing by Champaign County Judge Tom Difanis on June 1 to five years in prison. She failed to show up for her resentencing on 2003 convictions she had for burglary and possession of a controlled substance. The probation she received in both cases was revoked because of her continued drug use, according to court records.
Mr. Tash also had a pending drug case in Champaign County stemming from his arrest by Urbana police on April 23 for possession of cocaine and cannabis. He was also arrested in February in Urbana for possession of a hypodermic syringe but no criminal charges were filed at the time.