Donovan Nicholas will serve 28 years in prison before he is eligible for parole for the murder of Heidi F. Taylor.
During a sentencing hearing Tuesday, Nicholas received a life imprisonment sentence with parole eligibility after 25 years for aggravated murder. Judge Nick Selvaggio explained Nicholas will serve a three-year prison sentence for a firearm specification in the case prior to serving the sentence for the aggravated murder charge.
A jury found Nicholas, 16, guilty of aggravated murder and murder last week in the April 6, 2017, homicide of Taylor, his father’s live-in girlfriend, at their Valley Pike residence. Nicholas 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.
During Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, the murder charge was merged into the aggravated murder charge.
Reiterating a sentencing memorandum filed on July 20, Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi said the state was asking the court to impose a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without parole.
“The manner in which this defendant methodically and cruelly attacked Ms. Taylor, the duration of the attack, the substantial suffering she endured are all significant factors that the court must take into consideration,” Talebi said. “Additionally the defendant’s lack of mercy is relevant. Ms. Taylor pleaded with the defendant to call 911 on multiple occasions during the attack, pleaded with him to stop the attack and he refused.”
Talebi added this was a prolonged attack that took place in multiple rooms in the house. With breaks in the attack, Talebi said, Nicholas had time to stop the attack numerous times.
Speaking on behalf of Taylor’s family, Angie Rostorfer, Taylor’s best friend, read a statement written by Taylor’s daughter Alyssa Nicholas. The statement spoke about Taylor’s caring nature for her family and the burden her death has brought upon her family.
“My mother was an extraordinary woman,” Rostorfer said reciting the statement. “When thinking about how this crime has affected my family and myself, I can only begin to describe it by saying we all are feeling a huge loss. I no longer have my best friend that I would talk to for hours every single day. I no longer have a parent to turn to for guidance when life gets rough.
“Donovan Nicholas was my brother and I trusted him on multiple occasions to watch over and protect the ones that I love. My daughters not only mourn the loss of their only grandmother but they mourn the loss of their uncle. They do not know what happened or why they haven’t seen him but they miss him and the fun times they remember with him.
“As far as seeing him get out of prison, that is something that I don’t believe I want to happen. I feel that he can never be trusted again and I do not want to put anyone else at risk.”
Attorney Darrell Heckman said the defense asked the court to make Nicholas eligible for parole after 23 years.
Given a chance to speak, Nicholas apologized to his family and Taylor saying there was no reason or excuse for his conduct.
“I do not care about myself as I do for my family,” Nicholas said. “I do not care how long I am locked up for. The only thing that I want is what’s best for my family.”
After giving this statement, Nicholas answered a number of questions from Selvaggio pertaining to information that was previously brought before the court during the jury trial and in other hearings.
As Selvaggio questioned Nicholas about the case, the subject of the January 2017 school shooting at West Liberty-Salem came up. Nicholas previously attended the West Liberty-Salem school district before moving to the Graham school district for his last school year before the murder.
Nicholas said Taylor informed him of that shooting and he recalled trying to contact friends at his former school.
“It sounds to me that that incident did not significantly affect you in terms of how you felt towards humanity if after the incident your preoccupation with death and killing people grew,” Selvaggio said. “It seems that if you reached out to your friends and you were concerned for their welfare that actually the opposite would occur that you would become less preoccupied with killing because you knew how killing could affect those around you.”
Among the more serious factors Selvaggio said the court considered in imposing the sentence was the fact that the homicidal act was in retaliation for Taylor administering discipline by taking Nicholas’ cellphone, that Nicholas knew about his mental health struggles for months prior to the incident but did not seek help and celebrated his desire to engage in homicidal violence through text messages, and that Nicholas emulated a violent fictional character named “Jeff the Killer,” dying his hair and wearing clothes to impersonate this character.
In addition to sentencing, the court denied three motions filed by Heckman on July 20. These motions including a motion for acquittal, a motion to dismiss due to a lack of jurisdiction and a motion for limited stay of execution.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.