Wednesday night, a jury found Donovan Nicholas guilty in the April 6, 2017, homicide of Heidi F. Taylor.
The jury found Nicholas, 16, guilty of aggravated murder and murder in the death of Taylor, his father’s live-in girlfriend, at their Valley Pike residence. Nicholas reportedly stabbed Taylor, 40, multiple times before shooting her in the head and while speaking with a Champaign County 911 dispatcher advised that a person named Jeff, who he stated is inside him, killed her.
Both charges against Nicholas carried firearm specifications for one year and three years. The jury found him guilty of these specifications.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
During Wednesday’s proceedings, the jury heard testimony from Nicholas, a minor-aged friend of his, his father, Shane Nicholas, and Taylor’s daughter Alyssa Nicholas.
During the state’s closing argument, Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi said the evidence presented to the jury proves Nicholas committed every element necessary for him to be found guilty of aggravated murder.
Talebi said Nicholas purposely made the decision to kill Taylor, telling this to a 911 dispatcher and Champaign County Sheriff’s Detectives Ryan Black and Glenn Kemp. Further, Talebi said Nicholas formed a plan to execute his goal of killing Taylor.
“This didn’t happen in a moment or a split second, this was a calculated decision on his part,” Talebi said. “He thought about how he was going to kill her, he thought about where he was going to kill her, he thought about with what weapon he would use to kill her. He waited for her, he called out to her and he lured her to his location for the purpose of killing her. This also was not a quick and sudden attack, this was a long and brutal struggle.”
Talebi said during this struggle, Taylor was stabbed over 60 times with a kitchen knife piercing her body two to three inches deep. During a break in the struggle, Talebi said Taylor escaped to the kitchen area during which Nicholas went to get some water but did not call 911.
Taylor made a break for the second floor in an attempt to retrieve a phone and call for help.
“(Nicholas) – who claims he couldn’t even walk when law enforcement got there and had to be carried to the ambulance – runs up the stairs past her into the bedroom to collect the telephones,” Talebi said. “Why? So she can’t call for help because he wants her to die.”
As Taylor collapsed on a bed, Talebi stated Nicholas acknowledged he felt sympathy for the victim and wanted her to stop suffering. Talebi said Nicholas then retrieved his father’s firearm before firing it at Taylor’s head.
Throughout Wednesday’s proceedings, the jury heard about a girlfriend Nicholas had in another state who he would contact through his cell phone.
Nicholas expressed concern over Taylor taking away his cell phone because he would not be able to speak to his girlfriend. He added this was the first time his Jeff persona would be unable to contact this person.
Talebi spoke on Nicholas’ conduct after the homicide.
“On that same injured leg that he supposedly couldn’t even walk out to the ambulance to, he went to the other side of the house, down the front staircase, walked to the kitchen and then tries to call his girlfriend,” Talebi said. “And he sat there trying to call his girlfriend with no concern for Heidi Taylor.”
Through the testimony of Nicholas and his friend, the jury was informed of text messages the two of them and Nicholas’ girlfriend engaged in multiple conversations about murder during which Nicholas indicated he would be “Jeff the Killer,” a character he said he admired.
During the state’s closing argument, Talebi said Nicholas was caught up in a despicable, dark fantasy which he indulged in by wearing clothes like the character, dyeing his hair like the character and even keeping a drawer in his room for the character.
During the defense’s closing argument, Attorney Darrell Heckman contended this was not an ordinary murder case. Heckman stated Jeff was not something Nicholas created on April 6, 2017, but had evolved for months.
Heckman said the jury needed to consider purpose, voluntariness, premeditation and specifications in making their verdict.
Heckman said the text messages showed when his personality shifted from Nicholas to Jeff and added his voice and handwriting was different as Jeff.
“This was not a voluntary act,” Heckman said. “It wasn’t sleep walking but it’s akin to sleep walking. A trance – Donovan was in a trance when this other personality takes over. These illnesses are very rare but they are documented.
“This was no more a voluntary act for him than it would be a voluntary act for us to be accused of making threats when we speak out in our sleep or you wouldn’t charge a man with assault if he rolled over in bed and hit his wife in the face with his fist while he’s sleeping. It was not voluntary, it was not purposeful.”