URBANA — A Champaign County judge conceded that a long prison sentence may do nothing to rehabilitate a 15-year-old convicted armed robber with a history of crime.
But Judge Tom Difanis said the public deserves to be protected from Denashio Tester and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
Under the law, Tester had to be charged and prosecuted as an adult because of the nature of the crime. He could have been sentenced to 30 years. With credit for good time, he’ll be out in 10.
“It won’t make him a better person, but it will remove him from society where he can’t commit more crimes,” Difanis said.
Tester, who listed an address in the 2000 block of Fletcher Street, Urbana, pleaded guilty in December to the Oct. 9 armed robbery of the Check ‘n’ Go, 1815 Philo Road, U.
Assistant State’s Attorney Stephanie Weber presented evidence linking Tester to another armed robbery that happened the day before at the nearby Circle K, 1821 Philo Road, U. He had been charged with that crime too, but Weber dismissed it in return for his plea.
His co-defendant and half-brother, Kaleb Smith, 18, of Urbana, is also charged with the Circle K holdup and is due back in court March 19. In that case, Tester is believed to have been the gunman who threatened the female clerk. The robbers made off with several cartons of Newport cigarettes, cigars and cash, with a total value of $750.
In the Check ‘n’ Go holdup, Tester stuck a gun in the face of the female employee and demanded cash. He got over $1,100.
“This is an incredibly sad and disturbing situation,” said Difanis, who reviewed court records and psychiatric reports on Tester that showed he was having serious negative behavioral issues as early as the age of 9. The reports included him threatening teachers and other students at school with knives.
The child of an absent father and a drug-addicted mother who has been in and out of his life, Tester was mostly raised by grandparents, according to his grandmother. Kathy Tester called her grandson a “follower” who was easily influenced by older teens.
“Denashio is not a leader. He’s impressionable,” she said.
Difanis quoted from a 2010 evaluation done by Champaign psychiatrist Larry Jeckel who said Tester suffered from a “particularly violent strain of antisocial personality disorder” and that his behavior needed to be managed in an “aggressive and proactive” way.
“Dr. Jeckel did everything but fire flares in the air to alert the community to the problems this man was facing,” Difanis said of Tester, who will turn 16 next week.
Tester had prior convictions as a juvenile for criminal defacement of property and aggravated battery with an air rifle, both of which ultimately landed him in the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Urbana police investigator David Roesch said Tester was on parole at the time of the October holdups and had cut off his ankle bracelet that monitored his whereabouts.
Weber asked for the 20 years, quoting Jeckel’s report that called Tester a “serious long-term threat.”
“This is not an aberration but a continuation of a criminal lifestyle that’s intensifying over the years,” she said.
Assistant Public Defender George Vargas sought an eight-year sentence.
“This is a child with substance abuse and mental-health issues. This is what society gets when you don’t have parents involved,” he said, adding that prison would expose Tester to the very kind of people who will make him worse, not better.
Tester told the judge he was sorry for his actions and said he “wanted to use this as a blessing” to get his life turned around.
Difanis called Tester’s comments “insightful and surprising” but dismissed any notion that the teen was somehow impulsive.
“He’s a 15-year-old wearing surgical gloves during an armed robbery,” said Difanis. “The defendant is a dangerous young man.”