Appeal on judge's ruling halts murder trial for now

Appeal on judge's ruling halts murder trial for now

URBANA — A judge's pretrial ruling in a Champaign County murder case means the accused killer will be in jail a few more months while an appeals court resolves a question of law.

A jury was to be picked Tuesday to hear the murder trial of Dearion J. Jenkins, 21, whose last known address was in the 1000 block of Northwood Drive, Champaign.

Before jury selection even started, Judge Heidi Ladd granted a portion of a motion by Jenkins' attorney, Dan Jackson of Champaign, seeking to keep the jury from hearing certain statements that the late Cedric Mallett, 41, of Champaign, gave to police after he was shot early on Tuesday, July 5, 2011. He died on July 7, 2011.

The ruling was such a blow to the state's case that Assistant State's Attorney Dan Clifton declared he would ask the Fourth District Appellate Court to review Ladd's finding in a procedure known as an interlocutory appeal — one that takes place while a case is pending.

The ruling puts the case on hold while the appeals court resolves the issue, a process that will likely take several months even if the appeals court expedites its review.

Jenkins, meantime, will continue to be held in lieu of $1 million bond. He's been in custody since July 6, 2011.

He was initially charged with armed violence and aggravated battery with a firearm for allegedly shooting Mr. Mallett in the back in the 1100 block of Dorsey Drive at the Joann Dorsey Homes in north Champaign about 2:40 a.m. Tuesday, July 5. When Mr. Mallett died about 58 hours later on Thursday, July 7, the state charged Jenkins with first-degree murder.

Because it's alleged the shooting happened during the course of a robbery, Jenkins could face anywhere from 20 to 75 years in prison if convicted.

On Tuesday, Jackson asked Ladd to rule on whether or not the jury should hear three different statements that Mr. Mallett gave to police.

According to the synopsis that Clifton gave the judge, Mr. Mallett's first statement was made to the officer who responded to the shooting minutes after it occurred.

"He said, 'It was Dearion. He took $20 off me,'" Clifton recounted, saying that Mr. Mallett was unable to answer more questions for the officer.

About an hour later, as Mr. Mallett was being transported to the operating room from the emergency room, he was unable to pick the shooter out of a photo lineup that had been hastily prepared by a detective. It included a photo of another person with a similar first name. However, Mr. Mallett told Detective Mark Strzesak that the shooter's first name was Dearion and where Dearion's girlfriend lived.

Ladd ruled that both of those statements by Mr. Mallett were admissible testimony.

However, she refused to allow Clifton to present Mr. Mallett's third statement, made about noon on the same day he was shot, in which he picked Jenkins out of a different photo lineup and gave Strzesak more details of how the shooting happened.

Mr. Mallett's shooting was one of three that happened in Champaign between July 1 and July 5, 2011.