A former Bloomington High School teacher was sentenced Tuesday to eight years in prison for stabbing her husband to death during a fight at a Woodford County campsite.
In a deal with prosecutors, Sarah Mellor, 31, had already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of her husband, Mark Mellor, at a private campsite outside Carlock in October 2016. In exchange, prosecutors dropped first-degree murder charges and asked for a lesser sentence.
The Eureka courtroom was filled Tuesday with family and friends of the Mellors, several of whom testified about the couple’s volatile but loving relationship. Mellor’s defense attorney asked Associate Judge Michael Stroh for leniency, citing a history of verbal and physical abuse between the Mellors and the high school teacher’s extensive community ties and clean criminal record.
Mark Mellor’s mother, Jerri Andrew, took the stand and argued for leniency too, calling her daughter-in-law a “generous and loving soul” who deserved a second chance.
“There’s no way anyone could compensate us for this loss. There’s no reasonable price for his life,” she said, turning to Mellor. “I forgive you for that 30 seconds that so drastically changed our lives.”
Mellor’s attorney, Stephanie Wong, called six witnesses and submitted nearly 30 letters from Mellor’s supporters, in hopes that Stroh would only sentence her to probation.
In making his ruling, Stroh noted the Mellors’ volatile relationship and Mark’s well-known temper. He also acknowledged testimony from Sarah Mellor’s friends and former colleagues.
But the judge still sentenced her to eight years in prison, saying the seriousness of the crime outweighed the other mitigating factors. (A sentence of between probation and 20 years was possible. With good behavior, Mellor could be released in around four years.)
“Good people do bad things. Good people make mistakes,” Stroh said. “But being a good person doesn’t excuse you from the consequences of your actions.”
Trying to Leave?
The fatal stabbing took place Oct. 16, 2016, during a confrontation at a family friend’s campground. Apparently agitated that Sarah had taken a drag from a cigarette, Mark threw a drink at her, a detective said Tuesday. Sarah left but was confronted outside a trailer by Mark, who prevented her from leaving the campground and jogging home—something the marathon runner had apparently done before when they fought there.
During the confrontation, Mark physically restrained Sarah and pinned her arms over her head. At some point, her hands became free and she stabbed him with a hunting knife, leaving a 4.5-inch deep chest wound, according to testimony. Sarah then drove with her husband to the hospital.
Sarah Mellor began carrying a hunting knife in 2014 after being violently attacked by unknown assailants near her home on Bloomington’s west side.
“I’m sorry, I’m truly sorry,” Mellor told the judge during Tuesday’s sentencing. “I wanted to grow old with (Mark). … He was my lover, my protector, my best friend.”
Mellor said her husband choked, tackled, and tried to suffocate her with a pillow on prior occasions. He also allegedly made a threatening comment to her in a canoe shortly before the stabbing.
Wong spent time Tuesday asking witnesses about Mark Mellor’s temper, including a tendency to punch holes in walls that Sarah would later repair. Witnesses testified that Mark’s stressful job at McLean County Animal Control—including seeing a 4-year-old girl mauled to death by dogs—had pushed him over the edge. His mother wondered if he had post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
“It changed him, and the things he started to do were not his fault,” Sarah Mellor said.
Testifying on Mellor’s behalf were several colleagues from Bloomington High School, as well as friends from the Lake Run Club and the Friends of the Constitution Trail board, on which she served. They all described her as a selfless, caring person who was reluctant to talk about her husband’s issues and shrugged off his flare-ups.
“This incident didn’t happen in a vacuum,” Wong said. “Sarah is the poster child for a community-based sentence (probation). … This is not like a lot of other second-degree murder cases.”
Andrew, Mark Mellor’s mother, acknowledged her son’s faults in her tearful statement, describing “his role in his own destiny.” Others in the courtroom gallery seemed frustrated at attempts to vilify Mark Mellor or excuse the stabbing. Many wore matching T-shirts that read “In Loving Memory of Mark Mellor – Hunting, Fishing, Loving Every Day.”
“(Mark) dearly loved our Sarah,” said Andrew, who lives in Maryland. “He, like Sarah, did not fully comprehend how fragile life is.”
Woodford County State’s Attorney Greg Minger prosecuted the case personally. He had asked for a 12-year sentence but conceded it was a “tough case” with many competing factors.
“There’s no winners in this case at all,” Minger said. “I think it’s a fair sentence.”
GLT's Ryan Denham talked with Charlie Schlenker about the case during Wednesday's Sound Ideas:
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