URBANA — A Champaign man accused of fatally stabbing his mother then setting a fire to cover the death has a history of mental illness, according to court documents and police reports.
Champaign County Judge Richard Klaus Saturday set bond at $5 million for Terry J. Brownlee, 32, of 407 S. State St., after hearing the details surrounding the Urbana woman’s death, which was discovered early Friday.
Brownlee appeared before Klaus via camera from the satellite jail, wearing an anti-suicide gown, an indication that he is under closer watch by corrections officers.
Laying out the facts of the case so that Klaus could set a bond, Assistant State’s Attorney Sarah Carlson told Klaus that Champaign firefighters responded about 6:10 a.m. to a fire in the second-floor efficiency apartment at 407 S. State St. that Brownlee rents.
After knocking down the flames, firefighters found the body of a woman on the couch under blankets. When they pulled it outside, they found two apparent stab wounds on the left side of her torso and one on her neck. The woman had also been burned.
Carlson told the judge that the victim was Sharon S. Brownlee, 61, the mother of Terry Brownlee.
Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said Saturday that he is not releasing the name of the deceased woman until he can compare dental impressions taken at Saturday’s autopsy with known dental records. Northrup said the body was burned, making identification difficult. He also said he could not release a definitive cause of death pending the completion of test results, which could take weeks.
After learning that the apartment was rented to Brownlee, Champaign police went to his mother’s home on West Park Street in Urbana on Friday and found him.
In an interview with detectives, Brownlee said his mother had come to his home and they got into an argument about a fight that Brownlee had been in a week earlier with another man.
“He admitted he grabbed a knife and stabbed her in the side of the body, the neck and face. After stabbing her, he held her in his arms and prayed for her,” Carlson recounted.
Carlson said Brownlee told police he then used rubbing alcohol, lighter fluid and a lighter to set fire to the apartment, locking the door as he left. He then took his mother’s car to a nearby parking deck and left it there. Carlson said police recovered it later.
She said police also found items in a dumpster for the apartment complex that were consistent with an intentionally set fire.
Carlson said the state’s attorney’s office intends on Monday to formally charge Brownlee with first-degree murder, aggravated arson and concealment of a homicidal death.
She said Brownlee had prior city ordinance convictions for possession of cannabis and criminal damage to property.
In 2011, Klaus found Brownlee not guilty by reason of insanity of misdemeanor domestic battery for a case in which his mother, who goes by Shirley Brownlee, was listed as the victim. That incident allegedly happened Feb. 23, 2011. The court record indicates he went through months of mental health counseling from Community Elements before the case was discharged in September 2012.
Another misdemeanor criminal case alleging that Brownlee battered his mother in Urbana in November was dismissed at the request of Shirley Brownlee, according to Carlson. In that case, which happened Nov. 7, he allegedly threw her to the floor at her home. The Urbana police report about the November incident said that Brownlee suffers from mental illness but refuses to take his medication.
Bill Alexander, who lives in the apartment next to the one Brownlee lived in, said Brownlee had lived there only a few weeks.
Shirley Brownlee worked in the office next door to the apartment building where her body was found at Family Service of Champaign County.
“She was an information and referral specialist in our First Call for Help program,” said Family Service Executive Director Sheryl Bautch. "Her position ... was to help people who were looking for assistance or resources in the community. If people aren’t sure where to go to for help, they contact First Call for Help. Her job was to meet with people, find out what they need and get them connected to resources in the community that would help them. She was very good at that job and was a very caring person who helped a lot of people.”
Bautch said Mrs. Brownlee had worked in that full-time position for three years.
“In terms of her presence in the office, she was a very friendly and caring person,” Bautch said.
Brownlee is expected to be back in court Monday to be arraigned.
To be released from custody, he would have to post $500,000 cash.