16-year-old found guilty of murder
URBANA ? Hattie Paulk misses her brother and is sick about the horrible death he experienced on Aug. 8, 2002.
But she also can't help but feel for the young man convicted Thursday of her brother's murder, the boy she recalled as a quiet 5-year-old in the church school class she taught.
"His life is shot. Schooling, all the fun things, prom. It's gone," she said.
A Champaign County jury of 10 women and two men convicted Nathaniel White, 16, of the 1400 block of West Bradley Avenue, Urbana, of the first-degree murder of Robert James Nash. They deliberated about 5 1/2 hours.
White was tried as an adult and faces between 20 and 60 years in prison. Judge Tom Difanis set sentencing for April 29.
Several members of his family, including Leotis and Ernestine Pettigrew, the relatives who adopted him when he was about a year old and raised him, were present throughout his trial. So were Paulk and her nephew, David Nash, the youngest son of the murdered man.
When the verdict was announced, several members of White's family broke into tears. After Difanis left the bench, Paulk crossed the aisle to them and offered a prayer for White and his family. She then put her arms around Ernestine Pettigrew.
Out in the hall, Leotis Pettigrew was shaking his head.
?I don't get it. It wasn't there,? he said, referring to the evidence to support the verdict. ?The man was living the last time they seen him.?
Trials for White's co-defendants, Ricky King Jr., 15, of the 1100 block of Dorsey Drive, Champaign; Corinthian Howard, 17, of Dunbar Court in Urbana; and Kortel Burks, 17, of Hughes, Ark., are expected to follow in the next few months.
?It's messed up that both families have to suffer,? said David Nash, 31, of Urbana. ?I lost a father. They lost a son.?
Nash said his father raised him and his two older brothers alone. They were close, he said.
?When they took him away from me, it seemed like they took God from me,? he said, tears filling his eyes.
Nash said he was unaware until trial of the details of the particularly brutal death his father experienced in a grassy area west of the Martin Luther King subdivision in northeast Champaign, where he had apparently planned to spend the night in a sleeping bag. Testimony was that Mr. Nash had been homeless for several months and floated between family members and a men's shelter.
?When it happened, my family only gave me a little information, that he'd been beaten,? Nash said.
However, it was revealed during trial that a cable lock for a bicycle and a rusty, 5-pound bolt with a square head were found near Mr. Nash's body and had his blood on them. Whether they were used as weapons is conjecture.
What the pathologist who did the autopsy on Mr. Nash said with certainty is that he was hit at least 20 to 25 times in the head and upper torso and that both strangulation and blunt force trauma caused his death. Mr. Nash was 5 feet 4 ? - inches tall and weighed 118 pounds.
Dr. Bryan Mitchell found that Mr. Nash had bleeding in the brain, six broken ribs, a broken sternum ? likely from being stomped ? and fingertip-sized bruises on his neck ? most likely from being strangled. His eyes, although shut when found, revealed a redness indicative of strangulation. Five of his teeth had been knocked out and the inside of his lower lip was ripped.
No one was arrested for Mr. Nash's murder until a month later, after Champaign police received an anonymous letter leading them to the four co-defendants. The author is still unknown to police.
When he was arrested on Sept. 12, White, after initially denying any knowledge of the killing, admitted to police ? in a statement played for the jury ? that he punched Mr. Nash in the face, knocking him to the ground, then, along with the others, kicked and stomped him.
He told police he believed that Mr. Nash was drunk, and although 10 feet from him, was going to cut him with a knife. He conceded that after Mr. Nash fell to the ground, he could see he didn't have a knife in his hand.
In closing arguments, Assistant State's Attorney Mick McAvoy said there was no dispute as to how Mr. Nash died.
?This is constant, unceasing frenzy,? McAvoy said. ?He was laying on the ground completely exposed as these four kicked, punched, stomped and strangled him.?
McAvoy said under a theory of accountability, White was guilty. ?He didn't have to do it all. He didn't have to go first or last.?
McAvoy said to sustain a conviction for murder, the jurors had to believe White knew his acts created the strong probability of death or great bodily harm. Common sense, he said, dictated that White knew that.
Defense attorney John Taylor began his closing arguments by saying what his client did was nothing to condone and that it was ?obscene? for White to refer to Mr. Nash as ?an old man and dude.?
?The wrongness of those actions is not the issue before you today. The issue is did Nathaniel White commit first-degree murder,? Taylor said, going on to explain why he thought the jury should be skeptical.
There was no evidence of strangulation, no fingerprints found on Mr. Nash's neck, and no evidence of Mr. Nash being hit with any objects.
?Some others may have happened upon Mr. Nash ... after the boys had beaten him, and strangled him,? he suggested.
McAvoy and Taylor agreed that jurors should have the option of finding White guilty of the much less serious charge of involuntary manslaughter. To sustain that, they had to believe that White unintentionally caused the death by performing reckless acts likely to cause death or great bodily harm.
In the middle of the afternoon, the jury sent a note to Difanis asking if there was some other charge of which they could convict White besides first-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter. Difanis replied that there was not.
Taylor argued that when the youths left Mr. Nash, they could hear gurgling coming from him.
McAvoy countered that the evidence was that White told police Mr. Nash was making ?grunting? sounds while being kicked.
?He told you he was there, that he beat that man, stomped that man, kicked that man. He is a murderer,? McAvoy said. ?He is.?
White, clad in a dark suit, wiped his eyes and nose as McAvoy concluded his closing argument.
You can reach Mary Schenk at (217) 351-5313 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.