Carrie Finch looked across the third floor courtroom of the Hancock County Courthouse in Carthage Wednesday morning and spoke directly to Antonio Sanchez.
"You changed our lives forever"” Finch said. "Because of you, an entire community lost its innocence."
Finch was offering a victim impact statement when she addressed Sanchez, who had only minutes earlier admitted to killing Finch’s daughter, Madison, during a party on New Year’s Eve. Madison Finch, 19, was a graduate of Illini West High School and a student at Illinois State University, where she was studying to become a nurse and help children with cancer.
Sanchez, 18, of Hamilton, pleaded guilty to one count of 2nd Degree Murder and one count of Home Invasion. He had previously pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of 1st Degree Murder.
Sanchez was sentenced to 20 years in prison for each conviction, but the terms of the plea agreement called for the sentences to be served at the same time, with early release possible after 17 years.
Hancock County State’s Attorney Rachel Mast said Sanchez killed Madison Finch during the party at Finch’s parents’ home in LaHarpe. Mast said Sanchez knocked Finch to the ground and shot her in the back of the head.
Throughout the hearing, Hancock County Circuit Judge Raymond Cavanaugh asked Sanchez if he understood what was going on and to what he was agreeing. Sanchez repeatedly said he did.
Victim Impact Statements
The court allowed the family of Madison Finch to make victim impact statements.
The first to speak was Madison’s older sister, Josie. She said she never thought something like this could happen to her sister.
“She was my best friend and often the only person I could count on,” said Josie Finch. “Day-to-day tasks have become more difficult. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Maddie.”
Carrie Finch spoke next, describing her daughter to the large crowd in the courtroom.
“Maddie was a daughter, a friend, a sister, a granddaughter, a cousin,” said Carrie Finch, eventually adding, “She had a future. She was going to make a difference.”
Carrie Finch described the night she and her family learned that her daughter was dead.
“I ran up the driveway and I could see her laying under a blanket, her feet sticking out,” said Carrie Finch. “I remember laying on the ground” next to her.
Finch also talked about the impact on her daughter’s friends, who watched the entire scene play out in front of them.
“They have to live with seeing their friend being murdered,” said Finch. “They heard my screams, they heard my husband’s screams.”
Carrie Finch talked about how her daughter donated blood, how she loved art and shopping, and how she volunteered at a hospital.
“I miss her every minute, every second of every day,” said Carrie Finch.
Madison’s father, Jason Finch, was the last to speak. He held up a photo of his daughter as he spoke.
“This was our beautiful daughter who you selfishly took,” said Jason Finch to Sanchez. “I want you to remember this picture. She had the most beautiful smile you will ever see.”
“You acted as judge and juror that night. Too bad we could not do the same.”
Jason Finch spoke of being tough. He said Sanchez was not tough. He said his family was tough after losing Madison.
“Being tough is watching your wife, your best friend, my reason for living, slowly vanish from your own eyes and there is nothing you can do about it,” said Jason Finch.
He too talked about his daughter’s love for big trucks, pit bulls, avocadoes, Christmas, The Buckle, and her friends.
“Maddie loved her friends,” said Jason Finch, which he said played a factor in the family’s decision to go along with a plea deal.
“We cared about the kids who were going to be put on the stand,” said Finch. “We did it for them, not for you.”
Sanchez Speaks in Court
Sanchez addressed the court during the hearing. He said he had not done much with his life to this point.
“I intend to make the best of a bad situation,” said Sanchez. “I am sorry for the pain I have caused you and your family.”
A motive was not discussed during the hearing. After the hearing, Sanchez’s attorney, Drew Schnack of Quincy, said a fight broke out during the party and his client got caught up in it.
Schnack said there were witnesses scheduled to testify that Sanchez intended to kill Finch and that there were witness ready to testify that Finch and Sanchez fell and the gun went off accidently.
“It could easily have been not guilty, it could have been guilty, and with a 45-year minimum, he could not have taken that chance,” said Schnack, who described Sanchez as a likeable, intelligent young man who had a tough upbringing.
“He’s got some potential and that is the sad thing about it,” said Schnack. “It’s tragic that this had to happen to everyone.”
Jury selection began on Monday, with about half the jury being seated by the end of the day. Schnack said when he arrived in the courthouse for day two of jury selection, he was told by prosecutors that a plea agreement was still possible.
Cavanaugh Says Sentence Appropriate
Hancock County Circuit Judge Raymond Cavanaugh addressed Sanchez at the end of the hearing.
“I am sure the jury would have found you guilty of First Degree Murder,” said Judge Cavanaugh, as that was the original charge against Sanchez, adding that he would have no qualms with sentencing him to 45 years in prison.
Cavanaugh said the agreement will allow Sanchez to leave prison in his mid-30’s.
“What you cannot outlive is the devastation you have caused to the family of Miss Finch, to the community, and to the loss to society Miss Finch would have provided.”
Cavanaugh had to compose himself a couple of times, wiping his eyes on occasion while his voice cracked from the emotion of the moment.
“This is the biggest nightmare for a parent.”