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Mellor Murder Resonates For Domestic Violence Experts

David Proeber
The Pantagraph/Pool
Former Bloomington High School teacher Sarah Mellor during her sentencing hearing Tuesday, July 18, 2017.

Too much prison time, or not enough?

Former Bloomington High School teacher Sarah Mellor was sentenced to eight years in prison last week for murdering her husband, Mark. That sentence has lead to second-guessing from all sides, with some arguing that a history of verbal and physical abuse warranted a lesser sentence for Mellor. 

Others say that the sentence was too light, especially since Mellor could be out on parole in October 2020.

The case’s complexity resonates for staff at Mid Central Community Action’s Countering Domestic Violence (CDV) Neville House in Bloomington. The program offers counseling, an emergency shelter, and other interventions to disrupt a “continuum of violence” that can escalate over time.

During her sentencing hearing last week, Sarah Mellor told the judge that her husband physically and verbally abused her, including a physical confrontation that lead to the stabbing at a campground in 2016. But during that same statement, Mellor spoke lovingly about her husband and was remorseful.

Credit Illinois Department of Corrections
Illinois Department of Corrections
Sarah Mellor is now a prisoner at Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln.

“It’s a very normal dynamic in an abusive or volatile-type relationship,” said Senna Adjabeng, program coordinator for CDV. People in relationships like that get to the point where they’re in denial, or simply trying to survive, she said.

“What seems very abnormal to us seems very normal to them because that’s how their environment has become,” Adjabeng said on GLT’s Sound Ideas.

During Mellor’s sentencing hearing, her defense attorney tried to portray her husband as stressed out about his job at McLean County Animal Control and prone to violent outbursts—including punching walls—and shouting matches in front of family and friends. Others testified that Mark was not violent and that both spouses found ways to push each other’s buttons.

This too sounds familiar to the cases that CDV deals with on a daily basis.

“It’s important to emphasize that domestic violence is not just about physical abuse to a person. A lot of it is verbal abuse, emotional abuse,” Adjabeng said. “An individual hitting a wall or destroying property is a form of physical coercion or a message to an individual that next time, that could be you as a human being.”

“It progresses and escalates,” she said.

That said, Adjabeng does not condone Mellor’s actions. Mellor admitted to stabbing her husband during a physical confrontation with a hunting knife, leaving a 4.5-inch deep chest wound. She rode with him to the hospital and later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the case.

CDV hopes to intervene before escalation occurs.

“We still have laws, we don’t condone violence,” Adjabeng said. “Taking a life is taking a life. It’s just such an unfortunate situation because we know that we have survivors who have to start to defend themselves. That’s a reality that some people find themselves in.”

You can also listen to our full interview with Senna Adjabeng from Countering Domestic Violence:

GLT's full interview with Senna Adjabeng from Countering Domestic Violence in Bloomington.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.