Springfield Woman with Pending Murder Charge Freed from the Sangamon County Jail After Being Granted Pre-Trial Release

Katherine E. Smith

Springfield, IL – A Springfield woman has been released from the Sangamon County Jail after the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court ruled that the Sangamon County Trial Court “erred in finding that the defendant posed a threat to the safety of the community and that no conditions of release could mitigate the threat.”

Katherine E. Smith is charged with murder, armed robbery, and home invasion in connection with the fatal stabbing of 19-year-old Dohndre Hughes in February 2018. Smith, who was 18 at the time of her arrest, was charged alongside Dayne A. Woods and Mark D. Meszaros. According to Sangamon County prosecutors, Smith instructed Woods and Meszaros to set up a robbery and provided them with directions on how to enter Hughes’ home. Woods and Meszaros entered the home without Smith, using pepper spray to subdue the occupants. However, Hughes struggled with Woods, who then stabbed him in the chest, ultimately causing his death. Woods and Meszaros left Hughes’ residence with money, which they shared with Smith.

On February 8, 2024, Smith’s attorney, Mark Wykoff, asked the court to release her on pre-trial release while her case is pending. Wykoff argued that Smith, who did not have any previous criminal history, lived with her mother, worked as a sales associate, and was attending classes at a community college, was not alleged to have personally performed any act of violence but rather had been charged on an accountability theory. He also explained that Smith “got hooked up” with Woods because they both liked to smoke marijuana. Wykoff further stated that Woods “liked to dress up like a cop with all his gear and go in and rip off dope dealers,” and that although there was evidence that Smith and Woods planned to “rip off” the victim, who was a marijuana dealer, there was no evidence showing she contemplated Woods would physically harm the victim. However, the Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s Office asked the judge to deny that request and to have her remain in custody until the conclusion of her case due to the nature of the charges. A Sangamon County Judge agreed with the Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s Office, denied her pre-trial release, and ordered her to remain in custody. Attorney Wykoff then appealed that decision.

On May 2, 2024, the Appellate Court reversed that decision and stated in their order, “We agree and find the trial court abused its discretion by determining, based solely on the nature and circumstances of the charged offenses, that defendant ‘poses a danger to the community’ and that no condition or combination of conditions of pretrial release could mitigate such threat.” According to the Appellate Court, “While the State’s proffer tended to show defendant was legally accountable for the charged offenses, it was not sufficient, on its own, to show that defendant posed a real and present threat to the safety of the community. The State’s proffer did not indicate that defendant masterminded the robbery, was aware that Woods would be armed with a knife during the incident, was aware violence would be used against the victim, or personally performed or witnessed any act of violence. The State pointed to no other factor indicating that defendant posed a threat to the safety of the community. Significantly, the pretrial services report indicated that defendant (Smith) had no prior criminal history, and the State presented no evidence she had a history of violence.” They additionally stated, “The fact that a person is charged with a detainable offense is not enough to order detention, nor is it enough that the defendant poses a threat to public safety.”

On May 14, 2024, Smith was granted pre-trial release and released from the Sangamon County Jail with conditions that she is not to leave the State of Illinois, refrain from the possession of a firearm or other dangerous weapons, have no contact directly or indirectly with her co-defendants or the family of the victim, Dohndre Hughes, be placed on home confinement with electronic monitoring, not consume alcohol, cannabis, and illegal prescription drugs without a valid prescription, and undergo a drug/alcohol evaluation.

According to records, Katherine Smith is the third individual charged with murder to be granted pre-trial release. Notably, Peggy Finley, represented by both Attorneys Scott Hankin and Mark Wykoff, is Wykoff’s first client and the first individual in Sangamon County to be granted pre-trial release while facing pending murder charges. Finley, accompanied by former EMT worker Peter Cadigan, who was also released pending pre-trial, is charged with the murder of Earl Moore Jr., who died after being strapped face down and slammed onto a gurney while experiencing medical distress from alcohol withdrawal.

At this time, Smith’s next court date is June 10, 2024. Her co-defendants, Woods and Meszaros, are still awaiting trial in the Sangamon County Jail.

To read the Forth District Appellate Court’s ruling – CLICK HERE.

Grant Middle School Teachers Say They’ve Had “Enough!” Staff and Teachers Did Not Report for Work Today

Grant Middle School located at 1800 W. Monroe in Springfield, Illinois

Springfield, Illinois—Today, several staff and teachers from Grant Middle School did not report to work after meeting with Superintendent Jennifer Gill to address their concerns for a safer environment. According to a source, on Monday, May 10, 2024, five Grant Middle School faculty members addressed the school board, and after the meeting, some school board members were overheard saying, “The teachers were exaggerating.” The source tells us, “How much is enough?”

In a press release sent out today, it said, “The dedicated team at Grant Middle School took a bold stand to fight for a safer school environment for all students and staff by not reporting to work. The current system is ineffective in meeting the social and emotional needs of our students.

The top priority of our school board should be to provide a safe environment for every student to learn and for teachers to educate.

Therefore, we are coming together to ask for mental health crisis support and more restorative behavioral measures for students. Additionally, we are requesting meaningful support for our administration and security staff. We firmly believe that educators play a crucial role in shaping the future leaders in our community.”

Springfield School District 186 Spokeswoman, Rachel Dyas tells us that, “Today the students at Grant Middle School were greeted with several guest teachers alongside a number of their regular GMS teachers due to a higher number of staff personal leave absences than normal.

We were notified of this possibility yesterday and took swift action to ensure continuity for our students so that they have a great Friday. The building is adequately covered with certificated staff and security.

We are aware that the educators who serve students each day at Grant are concerned about the level of behavior issues. Yesterday, our Superintendent spent the day at GMS and met with staff voluntarily after school to discuss their concerns. We are dedicated to working through these issues with staff, working with families and supporting administration. As always, we cannot discuss any specific student case or employee issue due to the Student Record Act and employees’ right to privacy.

We know that serving our students and our community is a joint effort with families. Our staff should never have to deal with acts of misbehavior that make them feel unsafe. We are committed to continuing this conversation and supporting staff across the District in constructive and collaborative ways, but it is also a larger community-wide concern that we must address together. We fully understand the gravity of their concerns. The Springfield Education Association has issued their own statement and we will continue to work with them to define their needs and address their concerns as we continue to educate our students.

We do have a continued shortage of substitute teachers and have many staff across the District enjoying graduations and other momentous occasions for their families, so our District and instructional leaders stepped away from their roles to assist with this temporary need. We also asked our assistant principals from other schools and our Regional Office of Education staff who serve schools across our district to respond. We actually had more staff respond than is needed to cover the day.

Grant Middle School teachers and administration are excited about ending the school year strong and have many amazing activities planned, and the District is committed to working collaboratively to address their concerns while continuing to address students’ individual needs and provide an appropriate education for all.”

Arrest Made in Homicide of Michael Newton

Brandon L. Berner – Age 23

Springfield, Illinois – On May 6th, an arrest warrant was issued by the State’s Attorney’s Office for Brandon L. Berner, 23 of Springfield.

The warrant charges Berner with three counts of 1st Degree Murder in the death of Michael Newton.

Sheriff’s detectives were able to identify Berner as the suspect during the course of the investigation. Last night at approximately 10:12pm, Berner turned himself in at the Springfield Police Department. Deputies responded and transported Berner to the Sangamon County Jail, where he awaits a pre-trial detention hearing and arraignment scheduled for May 8th, at 2:00 p.m.

The Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate this case, with the assistance of the Sangamon County Coroner’s Office and the Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s Office.

BREAKING: Coroner Identifies Human Remains Found in Springfield Home as Michelle Bianco

Michelle R. Bianco

Springfield, Illinois – The Sangamon County Coroner, Jim Allmon, can confirm the identity of the human remains found at a residence in the 2100 block of East South Grand Avenue in Springfield yesterday.

The remains in question were examined today in Springfield. The individual has been scientifically identified and the remains are those of Michelle R. Bianco of Springfield.

Ms. Bianco was reported missing more than 15 years ago in the Springfield area. After the post mortem examination today the official cause and manner of death is still pending addition studies.

The death remains under investigation by the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office and the Sangamon County Coroner.

UPDATE FROM SHERIFF:

On Sunday, April 14th at 1:00 p.m., the Springfield Police Dept. was contacted by the resident of 2128 S. Grand Ave. The resident was remodeling and located in the crawlspace under the house a purse with personal documents inside with the name “Michelle Bianco.” SPD was aware the Sheriff’s Office had a missing person case on Bianco, and contacted SCSO.

Deputies and Detectives responded to the scene and began their investigation. Due to the purse being located in the soil under the house, it was determined that ISP assist in processing this type of scene.

On Monday, April 15th, ISP began their forensic processing of the cellar around 10:40 a.m. At approximately 12:03 p.m., they discovered skeletal remains and advised SCSO Detectives. At 12:05 p.m., an Anthropologist from the Illinois State Museum was requested to assist in the identification of the remains. After a positive ID that the bones were human, Sangamon County Coroner Jim Allmon was contacted and responded to the scene. Coroner Allmon took custody of the remains and returned the scene to Detectives. Today, Coroner Allmon notified SCSO the remains were that of Bianco.

The investigation of Bianco’s death continues. She was originally reported missing on April 8, 2008

Coroner Identifies Victim of Fatal Shooting at Lincoln’s Lodge in Springfield IL

Aaron A. Suttle – Age 47

Springfield, Illinois – The Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office responded to Lincoln’s Lodge, located at 304 North Dirksen Parkway, Springfield, Illinois, on March 18, 2024, at approximately 9:09 p.m., for a reported shots fired call. 

Upon arrival, a male victim was found inside a vehicle with a gunshot wound.  The victim was transported by ambulance from the scene and was later pronounced deceased at the hospital.

The Sangamon County Coroner, Jim Allmon, has identified the male victim as Aaron Suttle, 47, of Springfield, who was pronounced deceased by hospital staff shortly after his arrival at the emergency room.

An autopsy was done today and preliminary findings suggest Mr. Suttle died from the gunshot wound.

According to Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell, “Detectives are trying to locate and interview additional witnesses, and they continue to collect evidence. The suspect, a black male wearing black pants and a white short-sleeve shirt, was last seen running towards Clearlake Avenue after the shooting.”

Detectives from the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office continue to investigate the shooting and are asking anyone with information to contact the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office Investigation Division at 217-753-6841 or Crime Stoppers at 217-788-8427.

BREAKING: Fatal Shooting at Lincoln’s Lodge in Springfield, Illinois

Lincoln’s Lodge, located at 304 North Dirksen Parkway in Springfield, Illinois

Springfield, Illinois – The Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office responded to 304 North Dirksen Parkway, Springfield, Illinois, on March 18, 2024, at approximately 9:09 p.m., for a reported shots fired call. 

Upon arrival, a male subject was found inside a vehicle with a suspected gunshot wound.  The male subject was transported by ambulance from the scene and was later pronounced deceased at the hospital.  

An unknown black male subject was observed running east away from the scene.  Detectives with the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office are still investigating the shooting.  Anyone with information regarding the shooting should contact the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office Investigation’s Division at 217-753-6841 or Crime Stoppers at 217-788-8427.

We will provide additional updates today.

Springfield: 7-Year-Old Boy Dead After Drowning in Pool

Springfield, Illinois – The Sangamon County Coroner, Jim Allmon, can confirm the death of a 7 year old boy that was transported by EMS to HSHS St. John’s Hospital Emergency Room from the 2300 block of Winnebago Drive in Springfield after being found unresponsive in a pool at a residence on Saturday.

The child was pronounced deceased by hospital staff at 1:00 p.m. shortly after his arrival.

An autopsy was done today and preliminary findings are consistent with drowning. The death remains under investigation by the Springfield Police Department and the Sangamon County Coroner’s Office.   

VIDEO: Grant Middle School Security Guard Choking Janitor

Jesse L. Crawford choking at Janitor at Grant Middle School on February 26, 2024

Springfield, Illinois – In an update to our previous article: Grant Middle School Security Guard Arrested and Charged; Placed on Investigative Leave by School District. We have video of the incident (AT BOTTOM OF ARTICLE).

The incident occurred on February 26, 2024, at Grant Middle School, located at 1800 W. Monroe St. A Springfield Police Officer reports that Jesse L. Crawford, age 49, was breaking up a fight between two students when a female janitor objected to his actions. The female janitor confronted Jesse, and he became aggravated and grabbed her by the throat, throwing her to the ground.

The janitor had no visible marks or injuries, but she requested an ambulance and was transported to a local hospital to be checked for non-life-threatening injuries.

Jesse was taken to the Sangamon County Jail and was charged by the Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s Office with two counts of battery, a class A misdemeanor. He was granted pre-trial release and released from the Sangamon County Jail.

Springfield School District 186 provided the following statement: “At this time, District 186 is investigating an incident that occurred after school hours at Grant Middle School on February 26, 2024. After a preliminary investigation, a District staff member was immediately placed on investigative leave. We are unable to comment on this situation any further due to the matter involving personnel. We appreciate your understanding regarding the sensitivity of this issue and assure the community that appropriate steps are being taken. As always, the safety of our students and staff is our highest priority.”

Jesse is expected to return to court on April 24, 2024, at 9:00 a.m.

Missing Springfield Woman Identified as Woman Found Deceased on Highway in Springfield; Case Determined a Homicide

Teresa “RERE” Coleman

Springfield, Illinois – A Springfield woman, who was reported missing to the police and last seen by her family on February 17, 2024, has been identified as the woman found near the southbound entrance ramp to Interstate 55 at Stevenson Drive.

According to officials, an Illinois Department of Transportation worker was collecting garbage in the area when he discovered a bag containing a body.

Sangamon County Coroner Jim Allmon has identified the deceased individual as Teresa Ann Coleman, 54, of Springfield.

An autopsy was performed today and preliminary autopsy findings determined Coleman’s death was a homicide.

The death remains under investigation by the Illinois State Police, the Springfield Police Department and the Sangamon County Coroner’s Office.

BREAKING UPDATE: Woman found deceased near I55 SB and the Stevenson Dr. on ramp

Springfield, Illinois – The Sangamon County Coroner, Jim Allmon, can confirm the death of a female that was located near Interstate 55 Southbound and the Stevenson Drive on ramp.

The Sangamon County Coroner’s Office responded to the location after being notified by the Illinois State Police that the decedent was discovered.

At this time the death is considered suspicious in nature and an autopsy has been scheduled for tomorrow.

The identity of the deceased is being withheld pending next of kin notification.

The death remains under investigation by the Illinois State Police, the Springfield Police Department and the Sangamon County Coroner’s Office.  

According to initial reports, an Illinois Department of Transportation worker called police due to finding the woman in a bag.

Stay tuned to Springfield Leaks for further updates.