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Witnesses: Armed robber turned to God

Sentencing hearing will resume today

DIXON – A man accused in the armed robbery of two Dixon convenience stores has turned his life around, witnesses said Thursday.

Jacob N. Cecil, 33, pleaded guilty to two armed robberies in April; his sentencing hearing started Thursday and resumes today.

Just after midnight on June 9, 2006, Cecil, wearing a ski mask and carrying a sawed-off shotgun, robbed Stop-N-Go, 1100 E. River Road. A week later, he also used a sawed-off shotgun to hold up Hometown Pantry, 110 E. Seventh St.

Cecil first pleaded guilty to the crimes in 2008 and was sentenced to 60 years in prison. He was granted the right to a new trial a year ago after Lee County Judge Ron Jacobson ruled that he was not property informed during sentencing that he would have to serve 85 percent of his sentence under the state’s truth-in-sentencing laws.

During his 2008 sentencing, Cecil said he had gotten sober, become a Christian and made “substantial changes” to ensure that he never reoffends. That also was the theme of Thursday’s hearing.

His attorney, Anna Sacco-Miller, called character witnesses who testified that Cecil had become even more devoted to Christianity since 2008.

His mother, Mary Valdivia, said his “whole attitude” has changed.

“He’s totally dedicated to God,” Valdivia said. “He’s softer-hearted and is always wanting to help people know God.”

Another woman, Veronica Hurless, also testified. When she approached the stand, she smiled broadly at Cecil.

Valdivia introduced Hurless to her son in June. They have exchanged letters, and Hurless visited him once in the Lee County Jail, she said.

“He’s a good person. He wants to do good,” Hurless said. “He doesn’t want to do it [crime] again.”

Don Martino holds Bible study sessions in the jail, which Cecil attends weekly. He, too, testified that Cecil has become even more enthusiastic about Christianity in the last 4 years.

During the hearing, State’s Attorney Henry Dixon presented Judge Jacquelyn Ackert with the transcript from the 2008 hearing. She said she needed time to read it.

In 1998, Cecil was convicted in Whiteside County of two counts of burglary and one of armed robbery and was sentenced to 6 years in prison. In 2002, he was convicted of possession of meth-making materials and sentenced to 4 years.

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