After four hours of tearful testimonies and pleas for leniency from Sarah Mellor’s friends and family, Woodford County Judge Michael Stroh sentenced July 18 the former Bloomington High School teacher to eight years in prison for the stabbing death of her husband.
Mellor was initially charged with three counts of first-degree murder, but pleaded guilty to second-degree murder during a May 17 jury selection.
Until the sentencing hearing, little was known of the details that prompted Mellor to lash out at her husband with lethal force on Oct. 16, 2016; they were said to have been arguing just before midnight, and that she wanted to leave the rural Carlock campsite where they’d been camping for their home on Lee Street in Bloomington.
Mark Mellor, 31, was immediately rushed by his wife and fellow campers to Normal’s BroMenn Regional Medical Center in a 2002 Chevy truck. He was pronounced dead on arrival at 12:15 a.m. and Sarah Mellor confessed shortly after to stabbing him.
At the hearing Tuesday, July 18 before a crowded gallery, witnesses not only shed light on the provocations that lead to the stabbing, but also painted a picture of Mark Mellor as a man at the breaking point, prone to increasing “bursts of rage”.
The victim’s mother, Jerri Andrew, testified that her son had a history of angry outbursts, and that his former job with the McLean County Animal Control Center worsened the behavior, which manifested in symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Andrew, a non-commissioned Naval officer, studied psychology at Illinois State University and said she has dealt first-hand with people struggling with PTSD.
In the three years Mark Mellor was employed with animal control, he encountered severe animal attacks, witnesses said, the worst of which were the disfigurement of an elderly woman’s face and the death of a 4-year-old after the brutal attack of the family’s pit bulls.
“Mark hated his job, then the girl was mauled by pit bulls and it changed him,” Bobbie Busick, lifelong friend of Mark Mellor, testified. “Mark’s day-to-night shift was hard on him. The excess levels of stress changed his personality.”
Busick, who lived with the couple for a brief time, said Mellor was “prone to punching walls” and would scream expletives when called to work at odd hours. Mellor resigned from that job in early 2016, but the anger issues, his mother said, remained.
Bloomington High School French teacher, Sally Kelly, testified that, on April 15, 2016 she and the Mellors were at Elroy’s restaurant in Bloomington to celebrate a colleague’s birthday. Sarah left to use the restroom and when she returned, Mark accused her of lying about where she went for those few minutes, then spit on her.
Carrie Busick, whose family owns the Carlock property where the Mellor’s camped, testified that, on the night of the murder, Mark caught Sarah taking a “drag” from a cigarette, confronted her inside the Busick’s camper and threw a drink at her.
In a final statement, Sarah told Judge Stroh that, earlier that day, Mark attempted to suffocate her with a pillow and threatened to “put her in the river.”
After the argument over the cigarette, she planned to run home by foot from Carlock, something witnesses said she’d done before.
This time, her husband confronted her outside and pinned her hands above her head against their camper, she said. After a brief struggle, Sarah stabbed him with a 5-inch fixed-blade hunting knife which she carried for self-protection.
According to an Aug. 21, 2014 McLean County incident report, Mellor was attacked by a stranger at her home, and sustained facial injuries, including a fractured eye socket, thus the reason that Mellor carried the knife.
Andrew said her son sought some counseling for his problems, but that it didn’t seem to have tremendous impact. She, and others, testified that Sarah loved Mark and was devoted to helping him through this rough time in his life.
During their 10-year relationship, Sarah helped Mark pursue a college education, Andrew said, arranged for “dream vacations” to Alaska and Brazil, and even once saved him from drowning after he fell through a patch of ice one winter.
A steady stream of witnesses offered glowing, and often tearful, descriptions of Sarah as a selfless, caring person; a constant volunteer who gave her time and money to help students and others advance in academics and fitness.
“She helped students apply for financial aid and she translated for families,” Kelly said. “She didn’t do it for accolades. She did it to make their lives better.”
In prepared statement, Andrew expressed concern that incarceration would “take away Sarah’s humanity and compassion.” Punishment, she said, was in order so that Sarah would feel she paid a price, but plead for leniency.
“My dear Sarah, I forgive you. I claim you as my child,” Andrew said from the stand. “You are not bearing this sentence alone.”
Even Woodford County State’s Attorney Greg Minger agreed that Sarah was of good moral character, but argued that she acted without provocation and that her incarceration would serve as deterrence. He asked that she be sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Defense attorney, Stephanie Wong, asked that she serve a maximum of four years, if not allowed a community-based sentence.
Judge Stroh disagreed with Minger, stating he believed she was provoked, and that the provocation was not just that evening, but was a result of years of stress in the relationship. Deterrence was not necessarily justified, either, he said.
However, Sarah Mellor did kill her husband, a crime that Stroh said should not be diminished by a light sentence.
“You are a good person and how your life goes from this point forward is entirely up to you,” Stroh said. “Good people do bad things. Good people make mistakes … but being good doesn’t excuse you from the consequences of your actions.”
Stroh met the defense and prosecution in the middle, handing down an eight-year prison term. He did not impose the maximum fine of $20,000, instead she’ll pay the minimum; $1, in addition to a sundry other court fees. With 227 days served at Woodford County, and with good behavior in prison, she may be released earlier, upon which, she’ll serve a mandatory two-year supervised release.
— Bloomington teacher sentenced to 8 years for husband’s murder —