URBANA — For the second time in two months, a Champaign County jury was unable to decide if a Rantoul man caught trying to dismantle an air conditioner at an abandoned Rantoul factory was guilty of burglary.
After a little less than five hours of deliberation Thursday, Judge Tom Difanis declared a mistrial for Patrick Henderson, 50, whose last known address was in the 1100 block of Falcon Drive.
Testimony in the brief jury trial came from only one prosecution witness, Rantoul police Officer Rene Wissel.
He testified that on June 29, he was acting as a backup to another officer who was checking out a suspicious vehicle in the 300 block of Shellhouse Drive on Rantoul’s west side.
While there, Wissel said he heard a noise that prompted him to go look inside an abandoned factory. Following the sound he was hearing, he made his way up an interior staircase to the roof, where he saw Henderson with a grinder in his hand and two tool bags near him. He was working on an air conditioning unit.
Assistant State’s Attorney Will Lynch urged the jurors not to overanalyze the facts and to use their common sense.
"He went up there to the roof with these tools to commit a theft. He was caught red-handed in the middle of his crime," said the prosecutor, who reminded the jury that Wissel’s body camera recorded Henderson in action and his admission that he hadn’t had a chance to get anything.
But Assistant Public Defender Ben Dyer called the facts "very strange" and wondered if a burglary could even be committed in an abandoned building. He questioned why the state had not put on evidence of who owns the building to see if someone actually had to grant authority to enter the building.
There were no "Keep out" or "Private property" signs, he argued.
"It’s a defense to the crime if Patrick was mistaken," Dyer argued. "The just result, the fair verdict, is not guilty."
But jurors were not able to agree on that, either.
After watching Wissel’s body-camera video again and deliberating another hour after they first told the judge they were unable to agree unanimously, Difanis declared a hung jury. He asked each juror individually if further deliberation would result in a verdict. Each said it would not.
Because of three prior convictions Henderson has for residential burglary in the last 23 years, he faces Class X penalties of between six and 30 years in prison if he’s convicted of this burglary.
Henderson also has two other criminal cases pending. In one, he’s charged with theft for allegedly stealing brass fittings from two different companies in Champaign in July 11, 2018; in the other, he’s charged with burglary and theft for allegedly breaking into a business on the former Chanute Air Force base on July 28, 2018, and stealing several items, including a log splitter, generator, chainsaw and other power tools that he allegedly tried to sell online.
Before the trial began, Difanis asked Dyer if Henderson had tried to negotiate a plea agreement with the state. Dyer said Henderson offered to plead guilty to two Class 2 felonies and have Difanis sentence him to no more than 10 years in prison, but Lynch was not willing to enter into that plea bargain.
After the mistrial, Lynch said he’s evaluating all the cases.