URBANA — Clinton Fookes has no desire ever to return to Champaign after a vicious beating and robbery more than a year ago left him forever changed.
The Australian researcher in artificial intelligence was visiting colleagues at the Beckman Institute as part of a two-week United States visit in October 2011. As he left a downtown Champaign restaurant on the evening of Oct. 20, he was jumped by a group of young men who drove him to a secluded location, beating him as they went, and even stripping him of most of his clothing before dumping him alongside a road.
The attackers got Fookes' cell phone, his wallet with a small amount of cash, and his watch.
Fookes sustained brain damage, a broken nose, broken eye socket, broken vertebrae, frost-bitten toes, nine broken teeth and months of lost work and terrifying nightmares.
On Monday, Judge Tom Difanis sentenced Dorian Wills, 18, of the 1100 block of Northwood Drive South, Champaign, to 20 years in prison for aggravated kidnapping.
Wills pleaded guilty to that in return for a promise from Assistant State's Attorney Lindsey Clark that she wouldn't seek a higher sentence — he could have gotten 30 years — and the dismissal of a robbery charge.
Under truth-in-sentencing, Wills will have to serve at least 17 years.
Clark said she went with the negotiated plea because 20 years "was a number that the victim was comfortable with and it saved the expense of trial and having the victim come from Australia three times."
She called Wills a "monster" who planned the crime and was deserving of the 20 years.
Co-defendants Ralph Gray, 18, of the 1100 block of Northwood Drive South, and Anthony Davis, 18, of the 2400 block of North Neil Street, also pleaded guilty to kidnapping and are scheduled to be sentenced by Difanis Wednesday.
With virtually nothing to go on because Fookes remembered little of what happened and didn't even know where he was, Champaign police detective Robb Morris got to the trio by tracking Fookes' cell phone number. That led him to Davis, who implicated the others.
Fookes was not in court Monday but submitted a six-page statement to the judge, describing the terror he felt as he was hit with objects, kicked and punched repeatedly.
"They were laughing and jumping around and appeared to be having a good time," he said, describing how he tried to cover his head and face with his arms and hands.
"I believed I would not live through the night. ... I begged them to stop hurting me and I begged for my life. I also pleaded with them by telling them I am a father and I have young children. This only made them laugh harder and it seemed to spur them on even more with the attack continuing again afterwards. ... I have a memory of one of them saying how they were going to kill me," Fookes wrote.
Dumped in a field on North Mattis Avenue, north of the High School of St. Thomas More, Fookes awoke freezing. His shoes and most of his clothes had been taken.
"I decided that I will do whatever it takes to get to safety as I would not leave my family without their father and without their husband. I also decided that I was too young to die. All of this became the fuel I needed to crawl and stumble over long distances in rough terrain to reach temporary safety in a farm barn."
Unable to see clearly because of bleeding in his eye, Fookes made his way to a farm house but no one was home. He returned to the barn and wrapped himself in a tarp. At dawn on Oct. 21, he headed to the road where he estimated 100 cars went by, some slowing to stare at him.
"I was very grateful for the one lady who stopped to help me and who instantly knew the danger I was in, wrapped me up in her car and then called for the police and ambulance."
Fookes was hospitalized at Carle about a week, had several additional hospital visits at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, and months of intensive treatment after his return to Australia about a month after the attack.
He said the medical costs, lost work income, and rehabilitation and counseling are currently upwards of $125,000 and continue to add up due to ongoing treatment.
"In hindsight I realize just how lucky I am to have survived this horrific and horrendous assault. It is not every day in your life when you are confronted with such evil and vile people; people who kidnapped me against my will and attacked me over and over again.
"These people did not do this just to steal my money. Unfortunately, they did this for fun as their laughter and the joy they experienced while beating me is forever etched into my memory," said Fookes.
Fookes said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and often awakes in the night kicking and punching so violently that his wife won't let their 2-year-old daughter sleep in their bed.
The attack left the researcher and lecturer who said he had a photographic memory unable to concentrate or process information as quickly as he previously could.
"Having received a brain injury from a vicious and unprovoked attack by some of the most evil and heinous individuals I could ever imagine, my life will never be the same," he said.
Wills' attorney, Jim Dedman of Urbana, called Fookes' statement "one of the most horrendous things I've ever read" and urged the judge to consider Wills' young age and the fact that Fookes was spared a trial by Wills' guilty plea.
Wills, who had three prior adjudications for battery as a juvenile, apologized to the victim, acknowledging that "we really scarred him."
Wills said he's been reading the Bible in jail the last 10 months. He said he wanted to go to school and provide for his daughter.
"There's not too much I've done right but I know I can do right," he said, bristling at the "monster" label.
"Monsters are people who don't want to change," said Wills.