URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Michael Henslick, the man a jury took just an hour to find guilty of the first-degree murder of Holly Cassano back in 2009, is slated to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Henslick appeared in court this afternoon before Judge Heidi Ladd, who told the court that “the public deserves to be protected from the danger” of Henslick before announcing he would be sentenced to spending the rest of his “natural life” in prison.
During a days-long trial in February, jurors observed gruesome autopsy photos of Cassano’s body, saw photos of her blood-spattered home at Candlewood Estates in Mahomet, and watched an interrogation video in which Henslick admitted to police that he’d stabbed her more than 50 times and had sex with her dead body afterward. DNA evidence also linked Henslick to Cassano’s home — including blood from a cut in his hand he got during the stabbing.
It was just that evidence that Henslick’s public defender, Lindsey Yanchus, cited on Friday when they presented a motion for an acquittal, arguing that some of it — including photos of Cassano’s body — was “inflammatory” to the jury.
But Judge Ladd said those issues — even if valid — did not impact the jury in a significant way, given that the evidence of Henslick’s guilt was “overwhelming.”
Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Reitz also asked Ladd to take “judicial notice” of Henslick’s prior convictions — a felony for possession of cannabis, several failures to appear in court and an emergency order of protection that had been filed against him by someone else.
Reitz also called on Champaign Police officer Douglas Bluhm to testify about a 2017-era incident in which he responded to a report of a suicidal person on a roof. The house belonged to a then-64-year-old woman and Henslick was the person on top of the roof; police said they found the woman suffering from a traumatic brain injury.
Bluhm told the court he called the Elder Abuse Prevention hotline and Adult Protective Services, believing the woman was being “taken advantage of.” Henslick said the injuries the woman sustained weren’t intentional. His public defenders tried to draw attention away from another 2017-era allegation in which Henslick was accused of punching his girlfriend in the face; his public defenders called his father to the stand to point out Henslick’s hands were not at the time injured in a way that might have been consistent with punching another person.
Regardless, Reitz during closing arguments said there was “no excuse, no reason for what (Henslick) did to (Cassano).”
Henslick, before getting caught via the DNA evidence nearly a decade after the murder, Reitz said, “had nine years to make changes to his life.”
“… but instead, during that time, he has done nothing to redeem himself. On the contrary, he abused drugs. He abused women.”
And when asked what his biggest problem right now was, Reitz said Henslick said it was “being stuck here in jail, not being able to live my life and getting to do the things I need to do.”
Yanchus asked the court to consider Henslick’s young age at the time of Cassano’s murder (21) and argued that he shouldn’t face a natural life sentence in prison because he has living family and “rehabilitative potential.”
“The court has to balance justice for the community, justice for the Cassano family, and the rehabilitative potential of Mr. Henslick in this case,” she said.
Henslick also personally addressed the court Friday, saying he sends his “condolences” to the Cassano family but that he did not commit the crime he was charged with. He claimed the five drops of blood on Cassano that were used as evidence to tie him to the scene were not consistent with the time it took to “commit these acts” and do not prove that he killed her.
“I never wish harm on anyone,” he said, adding later that he “failed to help Holly that night. When she asked for help, I failed her. I failed to call 9-1-1. I blame myself for her death.”
He admitted to the court he was present when Cassano was killed, reiterating that he was not the one who did it.
Judge Ladd put it this way: “It is clear there are two sides to the defendant.” She said she reviewed letters from friends and family who described Henslick as “gentle, “peaceful,” and “empathetic” and that many were shocked that Henslick could do something like what he is convicted of doing.
“The magnitude of rage that he released on her that day is difficult to fathom,” she continued. “Her last moments on earth were filled with pain and suffering in a desperate attempt to survive.”
“The truth is that he (Henslick) did it… and that he’s not accepting responsibility.”
Ladd gave Henslick a natural life sentencing, meaning there will be no chance for parole or credit for time served.
Cassano’s mother, Toni, said she believes the sentence is “just.”
“I feel sorry for his family, but his family still gets the opportunity to talk to him and know that he’s somewhere,” she said in an interview Friday. “So on the other side of that, I still have the thinking that it’s still unfair.”
Henslick still has the option to appeal.