URBANA — Michael Henslick calmly told a judge Tuesday he understood that he could spend the rest of his life behind bars if he is convicted of murdering a Mahomet woman a decade ago.
The 31-year-old Mahomet man was arrested in August 2018 for the Nov. 1, 2009, fatal stabbing of Holly Cassano, 22, in her home in the Candlewood Estates Mobile Home Park.
On Tuesday, Judge Heidi Ladd advised Henslick that the state intended to seek a sentence of natural life for him if he’s convicted of first-degree murder in Miss Cassano’s death.
“I understand that, your honor,” Henslick replied, the only words he spoke during a brief status hearing.
In late August, State’s Attorney Julia Rietz filed the state’s intent to seek natural life for Henslick, instead of the normal 20 to 60 years in prison, if he’s convicted.
“The people intend to put before the trial jury in this cause that this murder was accompanied by exceptionally brutal and heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty as an aggravating factor,” the motion states.
In addition to dozens of stab wounds, the state has evidence that Miss Cassano was also sexually assaulted.
It was Henslick’s DNA, obtained from a tossed cigarette butt, that led to his arrest a year ago. A warrant was issued Aug. 28, 2018, after Champaign County sheriff’s investigators obtained state crime lab results linking Henslick’s DNA to that recovered at the grisly crime scene a decade earlier.
He was arrested the same evening.
Henslick lived in the same mobile-home park both before and after Miss Cassano’s murder.
Her mother, Toni Cassano, turned in her seat in the courtroom Tuesday so that she had a direct line of sight on the man authorities believe killed her daughter. She has attended most of his court hearings in the last year.
Recently, Henslick’s court-appointed attorney, Assistant Public Defender Lindsey Yanchus, subpoenaed and received news stories from The News-Gazette, WAND-TV and WCIA-TV about the murder and the subsequent investigation, arrest and charges.
She told the judge she needs time to go through those, presumably to see if she can file a motion to change the place of trial due to pretrial publicity. No such motion has been filed.
Ladd continued Henslick’s case to Nov. 26.