Henshaw, dead at 72
BY TRAVIS DENEAL
HARRISBURG - Saline County State's Attorney Mike Henshaw, described by many as one of the most successful and influential prosecutors in the region, if not the state, died Wednesday night.
Saline County Coroner Jerry Watson said that it appears Henshaw fell down his steps at home Wednesday night around 9:30.
Watson was on the scene from 10:45 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday. No foul play is suspected, he said.
Henshaw was born Nov. 21, 1944 in Harrisburg. He received his law degree from IIT/Chicago-Kent College of Law in 1971 and was admitted to the bar that same year.
Henshaw was elected to the position of state's attorney in 1972, and served for four years.
He spent two years in private practice before running for and winning the circuit judgeship for Saline County. He retired from the bench on Nov. 30, 2006.
In 2008, he again ran for Saline County state's attorney and won. He was re-elected in the November 2016 election. He was one of very few Democratic incumbents who remained in office after that election cycle.
Henshaw is being remembered by his colleagues as a caring person and a determined litigator.
Saline County Sheriff Keith Brown began working with Henshaw in the late 1970s, and told an amusing anecdote about those days.
Brown had been hired as an administrator under the office of former Sheriff George Henley, and Henshaw had just won the circuit judgeship in Saline County, Brown said.
Henshaw brought his own desk to the judge's office, so he didn't need the one already there.
A seal of the state of Illinois -- which had the incorrect date of statehood -- also was in the judge's office.
Henshaw offered the desk and the seal to Brown, who had gone to see Henshaw in his new office.
On his way downstairs with the seal, Brown ran into Henley, who inquired about the seal.
"I told him, 'The judge gave me this seal and a desk,' The sheriff said, 'No, he gave me that seal and desk,'" Brown said, laughing. "That seal sits behind me now, and has sat behind every sheriff since that day."
Brown said Henshaw's devotion to the well-being of children, especially those who were underprivileged, was well known among his peers.
Henshaw promoted the court-appointed special advocate program in Saline County extensively, Brown said. CASA provides trained volunteer representatives for abused and neglected minor children involved in the court system.
Henshaw, along with Brown's office, organized an annual charity golf tournament to raise funds for Saline County CASA. Brown said the total raised for the past six years was "over six figures."
"Being able to help kids was high on his list," Brown said.
David Nelson of Harrisburg also was a longtime colleague of Henshaw's.
"I became a friend of Mike Henshaw in, I think, 1978, after I moved back here and opened a law office," Nelson said.
Shortly after, the election for Saline County circuit judge was open. Henshaw, who had been state's attorney in Saline County from 1972 to 1976, also was a candidate.
"I decided to jump in and run for judge," Nelson said. "He beat the tar out of me. A few years later when I was applying for an appointment for associate judge -- a position voted upon by circuit judges -- I was told he was my most vigorous advocate in the meeting that made that appointment. We worked together on the bench for many years. We also shared an interest in politics and baseball."
Nelson, who also served as Saline County state's attorney from 2004 to 2008, most recently worked as an assistant state's attorney in Henshaw's office for a three-month stint that ended in December. He remembered his friend as a tireless prosecutor.
"I think he would have very reluctantly settled into retirement," Nelson said. "He was very committed to the work and to the legal system. I'll miss Mike and so will the legal system in Saline County."
Retired Williamson County State's Attorney Charles Garnati considered Henshaw to be a good friend.
"With the passing of Judge Michael Henshaw, Southern Illinois has lost a legal giant who taught us all how to be a public servant as both a judge and then a prosecutor in Saline County," Garnati said. "He was always firm, yet fair. I was so fortunate to try several high-profile cases before him as a judge. I learned so much from him during those experiences. I have lost a great teacher and friend. Rest in peace, Judge."
Williamson County State's Attorney Brandon Zanotti said he was taken aback by the news.
"I am very shocked and sad to hear of this great loss," Zanotti said. "Mike was a good friend and mentor to me. We worked together often and helped each other on cases. He will certainly be missed by many."
Editor John Homan contributed to this report.