Man pleads to attempted murder in throat-slashing at Illinois Terminal

Man pleads to attempted murder in throat-slashing at Illinois Terminal

URBANA — A former Fithian man who slit the throat of a man while apparently under the influence of drugs more than two years ago is headed for prison.

Joshua Scaggs, 26, pleaded guilty in Champaign County Circuit Monday to the attempted first-degree murder of Anurudha Dharmapala, 44, of Champaign.

In an agreement worked out between Assistant State's Attorney Steve Ziegler and Public Defender Randy Rosenbaum, Scaggs faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for the Class X felony.

Judge Harry Clem set sentencing for June 16. Scaggs will have to serve 85 percent of whatever prison term he receives because of the serious bodily harm to the victim.

Scaggs has been in custody since Dec. 7, 2011, the day of the unprovoked attack on Dharmapala, a University of Illinois law professor, at the Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign.

Laying out the facts of the case for Clem, Ziegler said about 5:40 a.m. that day, Dharmapala was seated in the waiting area of the Terminal at 45 E. University Ave., C, waiting to take a train to Chicago.

"There are a few other people in the waiting room, passengers and Amtrak employees. According to Dharmapala, an Amtrak employee, and one other passenger, Dharmapala and Scaggs were both seated in the waiting room and were not interacting. Scaggs got up, approached him from behind, and said something to the effect of, 'This is my country. I'm going to kill you,'" Ziegler said.

Scaggs, standing behind Dharmapala, then slit the front of his throat.

Dharmapala was seriously injured and has had multiple surgeries, Ziegler said.

Ziegler said police recovered a box cutter from the floor of the waiting room. Scaggs had blood on his hand and fingers. He also had a 4-inch folding knife in a pocket.

"Later, Scaggs admitted long-term, multiple substance abuse issues, including the use of so-called synthetic cannabis," said Ziegler, "He admitted taking it about two to three hours before the incident, knowing from recent prior use that it made him paranoid and think that 'other people were out to get him.'"

Scaggs, who was initially represented by Urbana attorney Baku Patel, was found unfit to stand trial in February 2012 and was in a state mental health facility in Chester. By May 2012, he had attained fitness — that is, the ability to understand the charges against him and cooperate with his attorney.

He's been held in the Champaign County jail for the last two years.

Ziegler said part of the delay in resolving the case stemmed from the fact that it was initially assigned to another prosecutor who left the office for another job, then a second who passed away a year ago.

There were also "multiple mental health evaluations" of Scaggs and eventually Scaggs got a new attorney attorney in March, Ziegler said.

Patel had asked Judge Clem to have the county pay for an expert to examine Scaggs, who had run out of money to pay for his own. When Clem declined that request, Patel withdrew from the case and Clem appointed the public defender's office.

In exchange for Scaggs' plea to the attempted murder count, Ziegler agreed to dismiss two other counts of aggravated battery.

Scaggs has a prior conviction for burglary out of Indiana from 2006, Ziegler said.

He said Scaggs was unemployed at the time of the attack on Dharmapala and had been living in a motel room in Champaign or Urbana.

Ziegler said he anticipates that Dharmapala will testify at Scagg's sentencing hearing about the impact of the attack on his life. Ziegler said he's met with Dharmapala several times and has kept him abreast of developments and negotiations in Scaggs' case.

The UI College of Law web site lists Dharmapala as an authority in tax policy, public economics, law and economics, and political economics. He's been at the UI since the fall of 2009.

Contacted by The News-Gazette, Dharmapala said he's had three major surgeries and several other medical procedures since the attack and is in ongoing rehabilitation.

"These were life-threatening injuries and I was very fortunate to survive," he said, adding the work hours he's lost due to the attack are "uncountable."

"It has been a significant blow to my career and also to my wife, who's also a professor at the UI," he said.

Of Sri Lankan descent, Dharmapala said he was born in the United Kingdom and is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

"This is clearly a racially motivated attack and unfortunately, in all the discussion of mental health issues, that basic fact has tended to get lost," he said.

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