Murder trial against Champaign County teen set to start Monday

A jury trial against a Champaign County teenager accused of killing his surrogate mother is expected to begin Monday.

Donovan Nicholas, 15, is charged as an adult in Champaign County Common Pleas Court with aggravated murder and murder. Each count includes a gun specification.

He’s pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Nicholas faces life in prison if convicted.

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Nicholas is accused of killing 40-year-old Heidi Fay Taylor in April 2017.

Nicholas was 14 at the time prosecutors allege he stabbed Taylor more than 60 times and then shot her in April at his home. Taylor was his father’s live-in girlfriend and surrogate mother, according to court testimony.

Nicholas appeared in court Friday where Champaign County Judge Nick Selvaggio went over final protocols before trial. Defense attorney Darrell Heckman and Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi indicated to the judge that they expect the trial to begin without a plea agreement.

Selvaggio said it was important everyone, but especially Donovan understood his rulings before starting the trial.

“These are very serious matters,” he said. “I want to make sure we are all on the same page and that includes the defendant himself.”

More than 150 potential jurors are expected to report Monday. Heckman said that is more jurors than usual and the court called them because of the notoriety of the case and that the trial is taking place in the summer.

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The case made national headlines last year because of a 9-1-1 phone call Nicholas placed after allegedly killing Taylor. In the call, obtained by the Springfield News-Sun, he can be heard telling dispatchers that another personality killed the woman.

“I just killed my mother,” Nicholas can be heard saying on the recording. “It wasn’t me who, who, it wasn’t me who killed her. It was Jeff. Jeff. I’m sorry.”

He said Jeff was another personality.

“This is going to be really hard to explain but I kind of have another person inside me,” Nicholas says on the recording.

Heckman has said it’s believed Nicholas’ alleged split personality is a character from an internet horror series named Jeff the Killer. The character is known for fictitious brutal killings on the show.

He said he plans on defending his client during trial starting Monday.

“The evidence will be the evidence,” Heckman said. “We expect the trial to last all week and we are hopeful that there will be a fair result.”

Talebi declined to comment for this article when reached Friday.

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Champaign County Family Court Judge Lori Reisinger ordered his case moved to adult court in November. Donovan was an eighth-grader at Graham Middle School at the time of his arrest.

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