Man pleads guilty to armed robbery in murder case

URBANA — A Champaign man who pleaded guilty to the armed robbery of a man who died later from a gun shot sustained after the holdup could be sentenced to 20 years in prison.

But Dearion Jenkins, 22, whose last known address was in the 1000 block of Northwood Drive, will have to serve no more than 10 years.

Jenkins was to have been tried Tuesday by a Champaign County jury for the first-degree murder of Cedric Mallett, 41, who died July 7, 2011, less than two days after being shot in the back.

A jury had been picked Monday but on Tuesday morning, Jenkins' attorney, Dan Jackson of Champaign, indicated Jenkins was willing to plead guilty to a less serious offense.

Assistant Champaign County State's Attorney Dan Clifton agreed to dismiss murder and aggravated robbery charges if Jenkins pleaded guilty to armed robbery. Clifton also agreed to cap his sentencing recommendation to Judge Heidi Ladd at 20 years.

Ladd accepted the plea agreement after clarifying with Clifton and Jackson that they intend for Jenkins to receive day-for-day good time on whatever sentence she doles out on Oct. 24.

The lawyers agreed that Jenkins should plead guilty to an armed robbery charge that did not allege great bodily harm to Mr. Mallett. That means Jenkins is eligible for day-for-day good time on the armed robbery conviction.

In laying out the facts for the judge, Clifton said that on July 5, 2011, about 2:40 a.m., Mr. Mallett was robbed of cash outside his home in the 1100 block of Dorsey Drive, Champaign, by a man he identified only as "Dearion."

Clifton said that the Dearion to whom the victim referred was Jenkins but that the gun used by Jenkins may have been a BB gun capable of being used as a bludgeon.

Police never recovered a weapon. Mr. Mallett died of a single gunshot from a .22-caliber round that bruised a lung, went through his liver and perforated his stomach, Clifton said.

Initial reports were that Mr. Mallett reported that Jenkins had asked him for cigarettes, and when Mr. Mallett turned around, he was struck in the head from behind and felt someone trying to take his wallet before he was shot in the back.

Jenkins claimed all along that someone else fired the shot that ultimately led to Mr. Mallett's death about 34 hours later. "There is some evidence to support that there were other people out there," Clifton said. "The victim said 'they' were trying to rob him which indicates there were more people than just Dearion."

No one else was ever charged.

"I didn't think we could prove murder beyond a reasonable doubt," said Clifton. And based on the evidence, he couldn't prove that Mr. Mallett sustained great bodily harm during the armed robbery by Jenkins.

Additionally, Clifton said he considered the input of Dorothy Mallett, Mr. Mallett's mother from Jackson, Miss., who had urged leniency for Jenkins.

"We would not have done a plea like this against the wishes of (Mr. Mallett's) mother," he said.

Clifton said Jenkins identified another person as the shooter. But in a statement made to police minutes after the shooting, Mr. Mallett said "they tried to rob me and Dearion had a gun on me."

About an hour after Mr. Mallett said that, a Champaign police detective showed Mr. Mallett a hastily prepared photo lineup as he was being taken to surgery. It contained a photo of another person with a similar first name to Jenkins and Mr. Mallett could not pick the shooter out of that lineup. However, he again told the detective that the shooter's first name was Dearion and where Dearion's girlfriend lived.

The jury would have heard that evidence.

However, Judge Ladd had ruled inadmissible a third statement that Mr. Mallett gave a police detective after his surgery in which he picked Jenkins out of a different photo lineup as the shooter and supplied even more details of what happened.

Ladd ruled — and the Fourth District Appellate Court agreed — that the third statement to police did not meet the exceptions to the hearsay rule — that is, testimony that comes from a third party.

After her pretrial ruling in June 2012, Clifton appealed and the appellate court ruling came in March, putting the case back on the docket for trial. Here is the appellate ruling.

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