Police & Courts

Parents remember late daughter as caring, smart, beautiful

Madison Finch
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 12, 2018 5:45 pm Updated: Sep. 12, 2018 8:12 pm

CARTHAGE, Ill. -- Jason and Carrie Finch now face the struggle of how to move forward from the worst eight months of their lives.

What do they do now?

"I want to say we breathe," Jason Finch said.

The LaHarpe couple had just left a Hancock County courtroom where a Hamilton teenager pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the New Year's Day shooting death of their 19-year-old daughter, Madison Finch, who went by Maddie.

"We remember her for the person that she was, and not for the way she was taken away from us," Carrie Finch said. "She was caring and smart and witty and beautiful and just by her friends that are here, you can see she loved really hard, and they loved her."

The couple -- both educators -- anticipated spending two weeks in court reliving the night Maddie was killed in their LaHarpe home.

In court, the couple made it clear that they didn't want the community nor Maddie's friends to relive that night.

"Would any parent be satisfied with the outcome?" Jason Finch said. "Like I said in the courtroom, we did it for others, and I don't think you can put a number of years for the simple fact that no number would be the right number. And no number is going to bring her back."

The Finches, as well as Maddie's older sister, Josie, all gave emotional victim impact statements in a packed courtroom with many wearing purple "Maddie" shirts that included a daisy.

They spoke directly to Antonio Sanchez, 18, who pleaded guilty to lesser charges of second-degree murder and home invasion, after waiving his right to a jury trial Tuesday in Hancock County Circuit Court.

Holding a photo of his daughter, Jason Finch told Sanchez that he didn't know the meaning of the word tough.

"Being tough is watching your wife, your best friend, your everything ... slowly vanish from your own eye, and there's nothing you can do about it," he said. "You watch your daughter act like a different person."

He scolded Sanchez for what he has done to his own parents, who were in the courtroom. He then spoke to them directly.

"We didn't just lose a daughter," he said. "You lost a son as well."

Carrie Finch tearfully described the agony of being a parent planning the funeral for her child, picking a photo for her obituary and selecting an outfit that would cover evidence of an autopsy.

"She had dreams, and the sad thing is she would have been your friend," she said.

Josie Finch said not a day goes by where she doesn't think about her younger sister.

"There is no one else to blame but you," she said.

The last-minute plea deal came as a surprise to the Finches, but they were happy to see the community didn't have to relive that night.

Jason Finch said a previous plea offer would have removed the 25-year enhancement for use of a firearm for entering a guilty plea of first-degree murder, and a second offer last week would have set a sentence of 25 years.

Maddie had just finished her first semester at Illinois State University, and her parents said she was homesick.

"Every time she came home, she was a little bit more grown up, and she missed home," Carrie Finch said. "She actually wrote a couple poems called 'Homesick.' "

Maddie planned to transfer to Southeastern Community College in Iowa and major in nursing.

Jason and Carrie Finch were staying in Burlington, Iowa, on New Year's Eve.

"We knew Maddie was having friends over," Jason Finch said. "We trusted her, and she was 19 and home from college. Did we know it was going to be a party? Obviously, no, but what kid is going to tell you that?"

It was the middle of the night when they received a frantic phone call about what happened.

In court, Carrie Finch described the terror of walking up the driveway and seeing her daughter covered by a blanket and the trauma of the community.

"Imagine being the one who gave her CPR to try and save her," she said of someone at the party. "He was in my preschool class, and the first thing he said to me when I saw him was 'I helped her, Carrie.' "

The family immediately felt community support. About 1,400 people in the town of 1,200 attended Maddie's visitation and funeral.

"We love LaHarpe, and Maddie loved LaHarpe," Carrie Finch said. "She loved knowing everybody, and people knew her."

On the back of the shirts that supporters and family wore is a quote from author and educator Michelle Rose Gilman: "She had a gypsy soul and a warrior spirit. She made no apologies for her wild heart. She left normal and regular to explore the outskirts of magical and extraordinary. And she was glorious."

Carrie Finch said Gilman, who later learned about Maddie, plans to feature her in a chapter about kindness in an upcoming book.

"We get text messages from her friends still that say, 'I was in a really dark place, and Maddie just came out of nowhere and helped me,' and she's on to the next friend," Carrie Finch said. "She was all about saving. She wanted to save people, dogs."

A scholarship fund has been set up in Maddie's honor to support graduating seniors from LaHarpe. Information on the fund can is at facebook.com/maddieleefinchscholarship.

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