On what was to be the first day of her murder trial, Sarah Mellor of Bloomington switched her not-guilty plea during jury selection.
Upon entering the Woodford County courtroom at 9 a.m. May 15, Mellor, 31, faced three counts of first degree murder in the Oct. 16, 2016 stabbing death of her husband 30-year-old Mark Mellor, 30.
She pleaded not guilty to those charges Nov. 8, days before what would have been their third wedding anniversary. The couple had no children.
Shortly after jury selection commenced, however, defense attorney Stephanie Wong requested, and was granted, a recess, subsequently tendering a guilty plea. The potential jurists remained in the courtroom through the ensuing plea hearing, which ultimately lead to Mellor’s plea of guilty of second-degree murder.
The three first-degree murder charges were dismissed, and the former Bloomington High School teacher will be sentenced July 18 by Woodford County Judge Michael Stroh. Mark Mellor’s mother, Jerry Andrew, was subpoenaed to appear at the sentencing for what will likely be a victim’s impact statement.
Before May 15, at least 25 witnesses had been subpoenaed, including Woodford County Sheriff’s detectives Robert Gillson and James Shreffler, to whom Mellor allegedly confessed to stabbing her husband on the morning of his death. The video and audio recording of her Oct. 17, 2016 confession was also entered as evidence.
Mellor’s guilty plea shuttered the trial, and, potentially, the opportunity to hear her testimony. Previous statements from Wong, character witnesses and police reports, though, provide a window into what likely would have been her defense.
During a Nov. 29 hearing to reduce bond from $1 million to $200,000, Wong defended Mellor’s character by showcasing her cooperativeness with police at the hospital. “She has no prior criminal history. No drugs were involved,” Wong said.
Mellor also began carrying a knife following an altercation at her home, Wong said. According to an Aug. 21, 2014 McLean County incident report, Mellor was attacked by a stranger at her home, and sustained facial injuries. An earlier police report also claims Mellor’s home was vandalized with gang graffiti and a window was broken, thus the reason that Mellor kept constant companion with a weapon, Wong said.
Wong also underscored Mellor’s lifelong connections to Bloomington; she grew up in Bloomington, attended Illinois State University, and except for one year when she taught in Champaign-Urbana, has lived in Bloomington-Normal all her life.
Andrew penned a sympathetic letter to the court for the bond hearing, illustrating her son’s close relationship with his wife, and her belief that Mellor was “grief stricken” over her husband’s death.
Mellor claims that, near midnight on the night of the October 2016 murder, the couple fought because she wanted to leave their Woodford County campsite in Carlock, where the two were camping with family and friends, and return to the home she owned on Lee Street in Bloomington.
She told police she thought the knife she wielded would “bend” or “break off.”
Photos of Mark Mellor on social media reveal that he was an avid outdoorsman, and police who searched the couple’s camper found numerous knives and guns.
Though Mellor may have thought she was holding a retractable hunting knife, the knife she brandished was a 4-and-a-half-inch fixed-blade survival knife, which would not bend or break on impact. Others at the campsite heard nothing of the ruckus, and there are no known witnesses to the crime.
Mark Mellor was placed in the bed of a 2002 Chevy truck and driven by his wife, while accompanied by others, to Normal’s BroMenn Regional Medical Center he was pronounced dead on arrival at 12:15 a.m. on Oct. 16, 2016. Sarah Mellor was taken into custody in Woodford County, where she has remained on bond.
Mellor has consistently been buttressed by an impressive contingency of dedicated friends and family at hearings, to which she once gave a grateful nod to at an early appearance. In most instances, however, the shackled, 5’2″ strawberry blonde Spanish teacher hunches before the bench, head bowed, no longer glancing over her shoulder. The group remains mum with the media.
In 2016, Bloomington School District 87 Superintendent Dr. Barry Reilly said the school district had no intentions of terminating Mellor’s employment and a substitute teacher was assigned to her classes. Mellor, he said, was very well-liked by faculty and students. She later resigned voluntarily.
Judge Stroh expressed little sympathy, however, and did not mince words during the bond reduction hearing, stating that he considers the $1 million bond issue appropriate for a “very violent crime” in which Mellor “plunged a knife” into her husband’s chest.
Woodford County State’s Attorney Greg Minger said testimony presented in the pending sentencing hearing will illuminate reasons which will justify the reduction in Mellor’s charge to second-degree murder.
According to the Illinois Second-Degree Murder Criminal Code of 1961, murder charges include; lack of intent, lack of knowledge, insanity, intoxication and self-defense. Testimony July 18 may reveal circumstances which may not have currently come to light.
In the event of extreme leniency, Stroh could sentence Mellor to four years’ probation, a luxury that first-degree murder charges do not afford, which may have been the catalyst for Mellor’s.
Sentencing for second-degree murder, a Class 1 felony, are broad, however, and Mellor could serve as many as 20 years in prison, minus time already served, and be charged more than $25,000.
It is likely, also, that Mellor will not teach again after incarceration. Title 23 of the Illinois Administrative Code are strict, and mostly prohibit those with felonies to teach in public schools.
— Bloomington’s woman pleads guilty in murder of her husband —