An Illinois appellate court has tossed the conviction and sentence of Aaron D. Henderson II in the December 2013 fatal shooting death of Rock Island tattoo artist Derek Jackson.
A new trial date had not yet been set as of Wednesday morning.
In a 17-page decision filed late last month, the Third District Appellate Court ruled that now-retired Rock Island County Judge F. Michael Meersman erred when he allowed the officer manager/IT specialist for the state’s attorney’s office and a bailiff to be present when the jury reviewed video and audio recordings during their deliberations during Henderson's trial in March 2015.
“While the record indicates the trial court instructed the jury that it should not discuss the case in front of the state employee the first time the jury requested to review evidence, no similar instruction was given during the jury’s second request to review evidence,” according to the appellate court decision.
The appellate court decision further noted that even if the jury did not discuss the case while in the presence of the state’s attorney’s office employee, “we simply have no way of determining what affect their presence had on the jury.”
“As defendant notes, the employee of the state’s attorney’s office or the bailiff could have frowned at a piece of evidence or scoffed at defendant’s testimony,” according to the appellate court decision. “However, neither the judge, nor defendant, nor defense counsel was present to oversee the interaction and to observe any impropriety.”
The jury convicted Henderson, 25, of first-degree murder in Jackson’s death and in May 2015, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
The jury rejected prosecutors' theory that Henderson pulled the trigger and killed Jackson, 24, in his Rock Island home on Dec. 18, 2013.
They did, however, agree that Jackson likely died during a robbery gone bad and that Henderson was accountable for his death.
Online records from the Illinois Department of Corrections show that Henderson was in the Menard Correctional Center as of Wednesday.
Rock Island County State’s Attorney John McGehee said he has not yet received the official mandate from the appellate court.
He said he made the decision not to appeal the decision after reviewing the court’s decision and speaking with the state appellate prosecutor’s office
“An appeal takes another year or so to go to the Supreme Court,” he said. “It just takes so much time…we’re just going to bring him back and retry the case.”
Henderson's co-defendant, Yolanduis L. McDuffie, was found guilty of first-degree murder in October. Jurors in his case also rejected the theory that he fired the gun that killed Jackson.
McDuffie, 24, will be sentenced Jan. 5.