Urbana man convicted of threatening, hitting disabled man

Urbana man convicted of threatening, hitting disabled man

URBANA — A Champaign County jury Thursday convicted an Urbana man of threatening and striking a disabled man for whom he was acting as a caretaker.

After about two hours of deliberation, a jury found Lorenzo C. Smith, 42, who last lived in the 1700 block of East Florida Avenue, guilty of aggravated battery to a senior citizen and intimidation for striking Thomas Shute, 63, in the face and threatening to hurt him in May.

Judge Heidi Ladd set sentencing for Oct. 2. Both offenses are probationable, but Smith could get two to five years in prison for the aggravated battery conviction and two to 10 on the intimidation.

Testimony at Smith's two-day trial was that Shute is disabled due to a stroke and had known Smith since 2006.

Both men testified that they hadn't spoken much in the past few years while Smith lived in Arizona, but earlier this year Smith called Shute to say he wanted to come back to Illinois. Shute said he invited Smith to come to Mount Carmel, where Shute was living at the time, because Shute thought he could help Smith get a job.

When the job opportunity fell through and Shute's wife divorced him, the two men decided to move to Chicago and room together. That didn't work out because they were unable to rent the apartment they wanted, so they moved to Urbana in early April.

Shute said he gave Smith money on a couple of occasions and agreed to pay Smith $250 a month to assist him, while allowing him to live in the East Florida Avenue apartment for which Shute paid the rent.

Shute testified that Smith had threatened him on more than one occasion over money, struck him in the face, broken his glasses and threatened to damage the motorized scooter that he uses to get around.

Neighbors of Shute saw the bruises, suspected he was being abused and convinced him to call police, which he did on May 24. Smith was arrested that day.

Jurors saw photos of Shute's bruised face.

In his own defense, Smith denied that he ever struck his friend or made demands of him for money. He said the bruises likely came from him falling in their apartment because of his unsteady gait.

Assistant State's Attorney Matt Banach argued that even if the relationship between the men started out legitimately, it escalated into Smith "free riding on an old, disabled man." He said Smith was guilty of engaging in "a pattern of abusing, berating and badgering" Shute to get more money from him.

Assistant Public Defender Katie Jessup argued that the neighbor witnesses who saw bruises on Shute's face were uncertain of the dates they saw them and said they never actually saw Smith hitting Shute.

She also noted that Shute willingly gave Smith large sums of cash on at least four occasions because he felt he owed him the money.

Sections (2):News, Local