URBANA — Treshaun Jake will be an old man by the time he's released from prison for taking the life of a 20-year-old woman hit by errant gunfire more than a year ago.
On Thursday, Champaign County Judge Tom Difanis sentenced the 20-year-old man to 65 years in prison for the July 4, 2012, first-degree murder of Desirae Austin, 20, of Champaign. She was hit by gunfire intended for other men at whom Jake was firing.
In imposing a sentence of 10 years less than he could have, Difanis said the message of deterrence needed to be heard by others like Jake who taunt the community with gunplay.
"I'm talking about young people possessing weapons, and to make it worse, firing them indiscriminately at what they perceive to be some slight," said Difanis.
"There were dozens of rounds fired that night. An innocent victim was killed. It's absolutely amazing no one else was killed," Difanis said.
Jake, whose last known address was in Danville, and co-defendant Anthony Meads, 22, of Champaign, were found to have fired at brothers Johnnie and Rajon Campbell in the Garden Hills neighborhood of north Champaign on that night after the fireworks display at Parkland College had finished. Several people were out in the street near the intersection of Thornton Drive and Cruising Lane celebrating the national holiday when the violence erupted.
Mrs. Austin, a wife and mother of two children, now ages 2 and 4, was hit once in the chest and died on the street.
Both Meads and Jake were convicted by juries of her murder. Meads was sentenced in August to 50 years in prison.
Both maintained their innocence.
"I cooperated with police as much as I could that night she was killed," said Jake. "I gave them all I knew. I let them dust me for gunpowder. I gave them DNA and I didn't have to. I never shot a gun that night."
The lengthy sentence came after Difanis considered 10 letters from family members of Mrs. Austin talking about the devastating effects her death has had on them.
Tasha Hughes, her cousin, looked directly at Jake as she talked of the crushing grief he caused so many by his "act of stupidity and great foolishness."
Mrs. Austin's husband, James Austin, wrote to the judge of his "extreme anger" and "trouble communicating with others" in the wake of his wife's death. He said he was being forced to leave the Army to care for his children, which was affecting his family's financial stability.
Assistant State's Attorney Lindsey Clark had also presented the judge with evidence showing that Jake has been a serious discipline problem for the staff at the Champaign County Jail since he was admitted there Aug. 29, 2012.
Jail employee Staci Sherrick testified that Jake has been written up 33 times while jailed for such indiscretions as repeatedly flooding his cell, getting in physical fights with other inmates, tampering with locks, covering his cell light, disobeying orders and using vulgar language. One of the fights resulted in another inmate going to the hospital, Sherrick said.
Sgt. Michael Johnson of the jail testified that the flooding, which happened at least 10 times, causes security risks when other inmates have to be removed from their cells. Johnson said Jake had also threatened to hurt him. He said Jake has been in segregation, meaning 23 hours a day in his cell, for more than a third of his time since being jailed due to his bad behavior.
Arguing for the maximum sentence of 75 years, Clark noted that Jake is a gang member who was expelled from high school for fighting and drug use. She also pointed to prior convictions he had as a juvenile for criminal damage to property and as an adult for attempted residential burglary.
"The defendant took part in a gun battle in the middle of the street where women and children and people were celebrating the Fourth of July," said Clark. "This defendant found it appropriate to fire a gun into this crowd of people."
"This community deserves to be rid of him," she said.
But Jake's attorney, Harvey Welch of Urbana, said it wasn't fair to equate the crime to one where a person was lying in wait for a victim and planned to kill.
"The injury and death was not purposeful conduct" on his client's part, he said, asking for a sentence closer to the 35-year minimum.
Editor's note: This case was the first use of cameras in a Champaign County courtroom after that was approved by the Illinois Supreme Court.