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.