BLOOMINGTON — A Washington woman was sentenced to 40 years in prison Wednesday for what a prosecutor described as "the exceptionally brutal death" of her biological mother.
Christine Roush had no agreement with the state when she decided to plead guilty in December to the stabbing death of Teresa Ann Poehlman, 47, of East Peoria. The victim's body was found July 2 by hikers at Funks Grove Nature Preserve near McLean.
Roush's friend Matthew Isbell, 20, of Marquette Heights also is charged with murder related to Poehlman's death. Isbell claims he knew Roush planned to kill her mother and he drove the women to the secluded location where Roush killed the victim.
Isbell faces a May 7 trial.
A threat by Poehlman to report Roush's work as a prostitute to authorities prompted the violence, a move that Roush, 22, feared would interfere with her efforts to have custody of her daughter, Isbell told police.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Scott Denton testified that the victim suffered at least a dozen stab wounds to her neck and chest, including two that pierced her heart. She also had been hit on the back of the head with a blunt object, said the doctor.
McLean County sheriff's Detective Cory Beverlin testified that surveillance video placed Roush, Isbell and the victim at a Bloomington hotel at 8:45 p.m. July 1. The three were then seen leaving in Isbell's truck shortly after 2 a.m. and captured again by surveillance video at a McLean truck stop about 30 minutes later.
When the truck returned to the motel at 4:03 a.m., Poehlman was not with the pair, said Beverlin.
The detective said authorities located a text message written by Roush hours before the slaying in which she she stated, "I'm killing my bio piece of (expletive) mother tonight."
When Roush was interviewed by police on July 5 and 7, she denied harming Poehlman and claimed the victim was dropped off in Heyworth. She refused to provide police with more information after she had pleaded guilty, said Beverlin.
The complex nature and structure of Roush's family situation became clear through testimony at the sentencing hearing. Roush was adopted when she was 3 years old by a family member.
Her adoptive parents and siblings sat on one side of the courtroom while other relatives who spoke as state witnesses filled several rows on the opposite side of the room.
Marie Lakin, the victim's stepsister, shared how the tragedy "leaves a wake of heartache" that has severed contact between generations of the family.
Tami Riggenbach, Roush's adoptive mother, said the defendant was sexually and physically abused as a child and had learning disabilities.
Rick Giovanetto, a friend of Roush's adoptive family, said she has accepted responsibility for her actions.
"It's a night she regrets deeply," said Giovanetto.
When it was time for Roush to make a statement on her behalf, Roush turned toward her family and offered tearful apologies.
"You brought me into your home and loved me. I didn't appreciate it. I gave you hell every step of the way," Roush told her parents.
Addressing her grandparents, Roush said, "I had no right to take your daughter away from you." Acknowledging her role as "judge, jury and executioner" of Poehlman, Roush said her actions also affect her young daughter who will grow up without her.
Assistant State's Attorney David Spence asked for a 50-year sentence for Roush, a woman who "killed the person who gave her life and did so for very selfish reasons."
Defense lawyer Brian McEldowney acknowledged the brutal nature of "this needless act of violence." Alcohol and substance abuse played a large part in Roush's poor decisions, said McEldowney, who asked for the minimum sentence of 20 years.
In his remarks to Roush before imposing the sentence, Judge Robert Freitag commented that "the weight of the tragedy in this room is palpable — we can all feel it."
Several factors weighed in Roush's favor, said the judge, including her young age, the unfortunate circumstances of her childhood and the fact that she accepted responsibility with her plea. Roush showed "sincere remorse" with her statement, said Freitag.
"But nothing will take away what you did," the judge told Roush, referring to Poehlman's death as "cold, calculated and brutal."
She will not be eligible for parole.
"For the people affected by this crime, the tragedy doesn't end," said State's Attorney Jason Chambers in a statement after the sentencing. The legal work on the case was concluded swiftly, said Chambers, noting work by the Sheriff's Office and prosecutors Ashley Scarborough and Spence.