Man convicted of robbery faces up to 75 years — once he's found

Man convicted of robbery faces up to 75 years — once he's found

URBANA — A Champaign man faces up to 75 years in prison for a gas-station holdup when he's sentenced next month. But first police have to find him.

On Tuesday, a Champaign County jury convicted Edward L. Taylor, 35, whose last known address was in the 2800 block of Campbell Drive, of the Jan. 20 armed robbery of a clerk at the Meijer Gas Station, 2201 N. Prospect Ave., C.

Taylor was not present even though he had been warned the trial could go forward without him.

He had been released on his own recognizance July 9 by Judge Tom Difanis, who was miffed that the trial couldn't start that day because a Champaign police officer needed for it was unavailable. It was Difanis' decision alone to release Taylor, who had been unable to post 10 percent of his $200,000 bond to be released prior to trial.

Assistant State's Attorney Lindsey Clark said Difanis didn't even give her a chance to be heard on that or she would have informed him that Taylor had a prior violent felony conviction. Taylor had been in custody since the night of the holdup, arrested by Champaign police within about 20 minutes of the crime.

Clark had been prepared to prosecute Taylor's case the week of July 9 but asked Difanis to continue the case because Champaign police Officer Marshall Henry left on an out-of-state vacation even though he had been served with a subpoena ordering him to be available for trial that week.

Clark said she learned Henry was on his vacation only minutes before they were to begin picking a jury.

Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb said there was no excuse for Henry to disregard his subpoena.

"We expect our officers to go to court. Guys understand they have a job, and when subpoenaed, they're expected to be there," he said. "We expect our guys to be organized. We have a duty to make sure a case is seen all the way through. We owe that to our victims, our community, and the court system to show up and testify.

"When they don't show, we have to deal with it. We have to look into circumstances and hold them accountable," Cobb said, adding that Henry's unavailability in July has been addressed. He declined to specify what that involved.

Taylor came back to court as ordered on July 24, and his trial was set for Aug. 13.

When he did not show up Monday, Difanis ordered that the trial go forward in his absence. Urbana attorney Jim Dedman represented Taylor.

Testimony on Monday and Tuesday, including video surveillance tape from the station, showed that a masked man carrying a backpack and a gun came in the station about 10:40 p.m.

The gunman came around the counter and ordered the female clerk to lie on the floor while he grabbed money out of the cash register. Apparently unable to find the cigarettes he wanted, he had her open a cabinet, and she handed him six cartons of Newports, which he put in a backpack with the cash.

Although the man can clearly be seen on the videotape with a gun in his hand, the woman testified she never saw the gun.

When the robber left on foot, the clerk hit an alarm. Almost at the same time, her manager was walking back to the gas station from the main store and saw a man leaving with a backpack headed south and called 911.

Minutes later, Officer Kristina Trock saw a man with a backpack in the nearby parking lot of the Sam's gas station. He then jumped a fence and ran into the Baytowne Apartments. There, Officers Marshall Henry and Phillip McDonald were waiting in their darkened squad car and quickly located Taylor, who was taken in custody within about 20 minutes of the holdup.

In his backpack was a handgun, cash and six cartons of Newport cigarettes.

Taylor told McDonald that he took the money but said he never displayed the gun, which he said he bought for $20 on the street.

The jury was out less than an hour before convicting Taylor of the armed robbery. They also found that Clark had proved that Taylor used a firearm in the commission of the offense, a circumstance which means that an extra 15 years in prison will be tacked on to whatever sentence he would normally get.

Clark said she believes Taylor is eligible for an extended term of six to 60 years because he has a prior Class X felony conviction for aggravated battery with a firearm.

Difanis set sentencing for Sept. 24.

Cobb said he wished the situation had been handled differently.

"I understand sometimes the judge's hands are tied. He was convicted. The case was dealt with. Now we gotta go find him. That's the hard part," Cobb said.

Cobb, who has been at the helm of the Champaign Police Department for five months, said his staff is reviewing all kinds of procedures with an eye toward improving how things get done.

Testifying in court is often logistically a problem for officers because they don't get much advance notice of the exact day and time they might be needed for jury trials.

All the cases that are announced ready for trial are set for the first Monday of the judge's two-week jury term. After the judge and the attorneys confer, the judge then decides the order in which cases will be tried. That means prosecutors have to be ready for all their cases on that Monday, which means they send out subpoenas to all their witnesses asking them to be available for the entire two weeks, as opposed to a specific day and time.

Usually, the state's attorney's office calls them a day or two before they are needed to appear in court.

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787 wrote on August 16, 2012 at 11:08 am

It would seem that Officer Marshall Henry needs about two weeks off... without pay.

He was served with a subpoena...and ignored it anyway?  

With two weeks off, he'll have the time that he apparently needs to take his vacation.  But the police union will limit his punishment to a slap on the wrist.

"To serve and protect"... right Chief Cobb?  What an embarassment.

hd2006 wrote on August 16, 2012 at 12:08 pm

The problem is not with Officer Henry, it is with the system. A good officer can have subpoenas every jury term, meaning he must be at the mercy of the courts and the S/A’s Office at all times. Like the article said the subpoena does not list an exact day or time but a 2 week window. Officers have personal lives too and should not be required to sit by the phone and not make family plans because the system cannot get their act together. It is funny that other counties are able to subpoena an officer for and exact courtroom, date and time but here in Champaign County we cannot get anything better than a 2 week time span.  So before you blame and throw Officer Henry under the bus think about if you would be willing to put your family on hold for an undetermined time span and wait on a phone call that may never come.  Why did I say “a phone call that may never come” is because it is not uncommon for the officer to never receive a call and tell them that they will not be needed for the trial. They just keep them hanging and waiting.

pattsi wrote on August 16, 2012 at 11:08 am

Is this an April Fool's Day story?  :-)

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm

What about the judge?  Letting the guy go free on his word that he will come back for the trial instead of having him post $20 grand?  Seems odd that people are blaming the officer.

GeneralLeePeeved wrote on August 16, 2012 at 3:08 pm

It seems like there's plenty enough blame to be spread also seems highly unlikely that anyone will be held accountable......sorry, but you don't get to blame it on "the system".  It's the judges, State's Attorney's office and the police department that develop and evolve "the system".

rsp wrote on August 17, 2012 at 5:08 pm

You missed the defense attorneys. They play a roll in this too. 

jdmac44 wrote on August 16, 2012 at 3:08 pm

I think I'd be paying someone to take me over the Mexican border in their trunk if I was facing 75 years.  Good luck catching him!

Fedupwithstatereps wrote on August 16, 2012 at 4:08 pm

It was Difanis' decision alone to release Taylor, who had been unable to post 10 percent of his $200,000 bond to be released prior to trial.

Well, there's the problem.  The judge let an armed robbery suspect out of jail before trial withOUT posting a bond??  That's just STUPID.  Not exactly a shock that Taylor didn't show up for court.  Ran like the low life he is.  Way to go Difanis'. 


Local Yocal wrote on August 16, 2012 at 7:08 pm
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Interesting double standards here. What civilian would not be held in contempt of court for ignoring a subpoena in such a manner? Would the defense be granted a continuance if their key witness ignored a subpoena because they decided to go on vacation? And how about  the arbitrariness of bonds? On mere whims, a judge can reduce a $200,000 bond to zero. And all for an incident that involves somebody wanting some money and cigarettes. What a wasteful rip-off for the taxpayers. This entire buffoonery will cost us over $1,200,000 to house Mr. Taylor once he's caught. If Difanis wanted to teach the state's attorney's office and the police department a lesson in having your act together on trial day, he should have dismissed the case entirely the second the prosecutor said my witness disregarded a subpoena to go on vacation, and then issued a bench warrant for Officer Henry's arrest on contempt of court charges. The defense attorney should have secured for the record that the defense is being denied a right to a speedy trial with this deliberate disregard of the law. Stunning that some commenters here would actually claim "inconvenience" as an excuse to disobey a subpoena. The Champaign police continue to believe they can do whatever the hell they want, whenever they want.

Instead, Difanis wanted to have it both ways: commence with the prosecution but let the defendant go to teach Lindsey Clark and Officer Henry a lesson. And thus, creating the perfect storm: a desperate fugitive on the loose and ultimately jeopardizing the safety for the next officer who asks Mr. Taylor to put his hands behind his back for handcuffs. For the officer, the moment represents just doing his job before returning to the wife and dinner. For Mr. Taylor, the moment will represent the end of his entire life. Will the officer's widow understand how the system created a monster if her husband is shot dead by a guy just wanting to stay free? Or will it be the usual, blame the defendant for how evil they just happen to be?

A better system would have had a plea of guilty registered within the first three weeks of his arrest, and Taylor would have spent the next 364 days getting in the correctional van to go mop floors, dressed in his shameful striped jump suit, at the Meijer Convenience Store he chose to terrorize by pointing that gun at somebody. Oh wait, that would actually require an intent to rehabilitate the perp, and compensate the victims and worst of all, require work on the part of a Sheriff's Deputy to go beyond just pushing buttons for automated doors and shoving food trays through a slot. Better the taxpayers be charged for the chase, the out-of-state transportation, and purposeless housing of somebody for the next 60 years so lawyers, judges and cops can save face. Want to spend over $1,200,000 on all this stupidity? Okay, but it only means more job security for law enforcement and no accountability for a judge on a ego trip and a cop who thinks subpoenas are optional.

gftst wrote on August 16, 2012 at 8:08 pm

One thing people dont consider is when did Officer Henry plan his out of state vacation, how far before the supoena was received had it been planned?? For an out of state vacation I bet a few grand had been spent and if I;m him im not cancelling that for a supoena that I MIGHT be called to appear for but more than likely will not be called to appear for. If I do have to cancel that and lose all that money that I've already spent somebody is paying for that and it sure as heck is not me. The States Attorneys office sends out many supoenas all the time for date ranges and then never call the officers or others in public safety to let them know if it looks like theyll have to appear or not until its the last minute. Im sorry but people have lives outside of work and cant drop everything to go run to court. The States Attorneys office should get its act together and plan better when exactly court cases are going to go and have a better idea who is going to need to testify and not supoena everybody and then just see what happens.

787 wrote on August 16, 2012 at 9:08 pm

State's Attorney's office  =  Julia Rietz.

And yet the Republicans in this county can't find ANYONE to run against.... someone like... her?

Wow.  Really?

It can't be because she's doing a good job and is unbeatable.



Local Yocal wrote on August 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm
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There is no need to run a Republican against Rietz. She is a Republican, a Democrat in name only. Her prosecutorial record is as cruel and draconian as Piland's and Difanis' regimes. At the rate she is going, she will soon surpass Piland's number of prosecutions in less time than it took Piland. For example, it took Piland ten years to accumulate 19,022 felony prosecutions. In Rietz' first six years, she has prosecuted 13,498 felonies. But in backwater Champaign County, that's seen as a good thing since no one counts the costs of a failed drug war, the orphaned children and women, and the lost labor pool to felony disenfranchisement. The moralistic dimwits will shout, "Don't do the crime, if you don't want to do the time,"; effectively hiding the surveillance police state that has evolved in the last twenty years.

As for Rietz, she is counting on Difanis appointing her to the bench like he did when he plucked her out of law school back in 1993.