Judge says VanHoutte may catch a break over sentencing mistake

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ROCK ISLAND, Ill.—Former teacher Jason VanHoutte may catch a break over a sentencing error, which could result in a shorter prison sentence or a new trial.

At a hearing on Monday, Judge Mike Meersman announced he was reviewing transcripts of the case when “something dawned on me”.

Namely, when VanHoutte entered into a plea deal for having sex with a female student, he was wrongly told he would be placed on parole for two years. Instead, by law, Meersman says, VanHoutte should have been told parole would last from three years to life.

“He entered into a contract which was technically voidable,” Judge Meersman said. “It’s my fault.”

VanHoutte was sentenced last year to 12 years in prison for having sex with a 16-year-old female student.  Former State’s Attorney Jeff Terronez prosecuted the case, and later was convicted of providing alcohol to that same girl.

VanHoutte’s attorney, Gerry Schick, had filed a motion to dismiss because of Terronez’s relationship with the VanHoutte victim.  After the Oct. 24 hearing however, Schick will now file an amended motion that includes the improper parole information.

“It’s good news,” said Schick after the hearing. “It just adds to it, now there will be two reasons why the convictions ought to be set aside.  There’s the Terronez problem and the admonishment at the plea problems. So it will be one more reason for the judge to pick and choose,” Schick said.

State’s Attorney Mark Senko said it’s too early to discuss whether he would be willing to negotiate a new plea deal with a lesser sentence for the former teacher.

“We’re not there yet. This is something I found out about last week,” Senko said.  “The best scenario that could happen for Mr. VanHoutte is simple.  It goes back to square one.  It’s as if the plea didn’t happen,” Senko said.

VanHoutte was not transported from prison to the hearing.  Schick has thirty days to file a new motion, and says he plans on visiting his client to discuss the new development.