A Vandalia man who was convicted in June of aggravated domestic battery, but acquitted on a charge of attempted first-degree murder, offered tearful apologies prior to being given a seven-year prison sentence.
But, because he is given credit for the time he has served in the Fayette County Jail since his arrest more than three years ago, Gregory Hill’s time in prison has been greatly reduced.
Judge Kevin Parker handed down the maximum sentence for Hill after finding him guilty of aggravated domestic battery.
He also found Hill not guilty of attempted first-degree murder and a second count of aggravated domestic battery.
Hill was given credit for the three years and 29 days (1,125 days) he has served in the county jail, and Parker said that if Hill is given the customary credit from the Illinois Department of Corrections (4.5 days per 30 days), his sentence would be reduced to five years and 11 months prior to receiving credit for the time served in Fayette County.
Hill, 51, was arrested in August 2017 after a domestic incident that left his wife, Heather, with severe injuries.
The office of Fayette County State’s Attorney Joshua Morrison initially charged Hill with aggravated domestic battery, then added attempted first-degree murder charges about a month later.
The charges initially alleged that during the domestic incident, Hill threw his wife to the floor and caused severe injuries by kneeing or kicking his wife in the neck area. The allegation that he threw her to the floor was removed a few days before the June bench trial.
While both testifying and giving his statement of allocution, Hill said he was sorry for causing severe injuries to his wife and that he never intended to cause those injuries.
The sentencing hearing got under way with Morrison calling three witnesses – Dr. Christopher Graves, a spine surgeon who treated Heather Hill; Gregory Hill’s probation officer; and Heather’s mother, Lisa Bernhardt.
Graves said that Heather Hill sustained a “high spinal cord injury” that affects a person’s limbs, causing paralysis, and also the diaphragm.
He said that with the severity of her injury, her life expectancy was reduced to “about eight years,” or “at best, 12 years.”
Bernhardt read a victim impact statement she had written prior to the sentencing hearing.
“There aren’t words to explain what Heather’s gone through unless you see it and live it every day,” Bernhardt said.
Heather, she said, is unable to ever come home again, has had pneumonia four times and needs 24-acute care. “She has been to six different hospitals, and has bed sores to the bone.
“She has to depend on someone to turn her every two hours to prevent more bed sores,” Bernhardt said.
“The collateral damage is unsurmountable,” she said.
The physical damage caused by Hill, she said, “has been described as awful; I think it’s heinous.
“Make no mistake about it,” she said to Hill, you killed her.
“She just hasn’t died yet,” Bernhardt said.
Hill’s attorney, Thomas Lacey, had two witnesses testify during the hearing, Hill’s brother, Mark Hill, and Hill himself.
Mark Hill said that his brother is “certainly not a violent person.”
Hill said that he has always been the person that his family has turned to in times of trouble, and that he continues to be that person.
He said that he visited Heather one time and most recently commented on a Facebook post she made.
Mark Hill said that regardless what happens, he still has strong feelings for Heather and her family.
“We love Heather very much,” he said.
He described his brother as a hard worker and a “go-getter,” that his brother could live with him and that he has no fear of his brother acting violently.
When Lacey announced that he was calling his client to testify, Parker reminded him that Hill would be allowed to give a statement of allocution.
Lacey said that he realized that, but that he felt there were some things that would come out in both direct testimony and cross-examination.
Hill said that the incident occurred after Heather struck him while he was sleeping on the couch.
He said what happened was an accident and that his strong feelings for his wife have never changed.
“I miss her with all my heart,” Hill said.
He said that if Heather would allow it, he would visit her, and Lacey asked whether, if placed on probation, he would “take care of her.”
Hill said that he would, that it would be the “same thing since 1994 (when they married),” Hill said.
Lacey asked whether Hill was horrified when he realized that Heather was seriously injured. “Very, very horrified,” Hill said.
“Did you intend to harm her?” Lacey asked. “No,” Hill said.
Under cross-examination by Morrison, Hill classified himself as “not a violent person.”
“You did this, right?” Morrison asked, to which Hill conceded.
“You kicked her in the back of the head?” Morrison asked. “I did not,” Hill said.
“I can say that I did not intend to harm her – I can say that,” Hill said.
In asking for the minimum, Morrison pointed out the severity of Heather Hill’s injury.
“He nearly decapitated her,” Morrison said.
“He has not expressed any sorrow for the pain he caused. In fact, he cannot say he did this,” Morrison said.
He said that Heather Hill may not survive until Greg Hill gets out of prison. “Even if she does, after he gets out, she will still be in that hospital bed.
“He has significantly shortened her life span,” Morrison said.
In arguing for credit and time served, Lacey said about the seriousness of Heather Hill’s injuries, “Nothing can be done about that.”
The trial included the reading of a deposition taken of Heather Hill. “The injury was a freak accident – those are her words,” Lacey said.
While the prosecution argued that Greg Hill tried to kill his wife, Lacey said, “Even the victim’s own words suggest that he didn’t intend to inflict this kind of injury.
“The intent to cause his awful harm has not been proved,” he said.
“The question here is whether the court believes he has paid up enough,” Lacey said.
In delivering his statement of allocution, Hill turned to face both his family and Heather’s family.
“I apologize to Lisa – I know how much you’re hurting,” he said to his wife’s mother.
“You know how much I love Heather,” Hill said. “I never intended for this you happen.
“(She) never did anything to deserve this,” he said. “She’s the greatest woman I’ve ever known.
“I told her I will never leave here,” a tearful Hill said.
“I take full responsibility for everything that happened,” he said. “I wish it hadn’t.”
Hill also apologized to his family. To his son, he said, “You know it was an accident.
“I know we both fell down. I don’t understand what happened for why it happened,” Hill said.
“I know it’s a terrible thing and nothing is going to make it right,” he said.
In pronouncing sentence, Parker said, “This is one of the more difficult cases” in the six years has been on th bench.
“It’s nothing short of a tragedy,” Parker said.
He said that he had to consider the extent of harm caused by Hill, but also that he was taking responsibility for his actions.
It is clear, Parker said, that Greg Hill intended to strike his wife. “At the same time, I’m not convinced that Mr. Hill intended to kill her.
“The tragic reality is that whatever I sentence Mr. Hill to is a relatively short period” when considering his wife’s injuries.
While Greg Hill will one day walk out of a jail cell, Parker said, “Heather Hill, effectively, has been sentenced to life.”
Parker said that his duties include performing marriages at the courthouse, and that those getting married exchange vows.
Whether Hill intended to cause his wife’s injuries or not, the judge said, (his) conduct was a gross violation of those marital vows.”