Citizen hero honored for help in catching robbers

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URBANA - But for the bravery of a man who intervened in a crime, two men who robbed and shot a University of Illinois student last winter might have gotten away.

Champaign police detective Pat Kelly testified Tuesday that on Dec. 18, Brandon Lee was walking home from the library where he had been studying for finals.

Around the 100 block of South First Street, Lee noticed two men following him. He heard them run up behind him and felt one grab him around the throat from behind. The man uttered a profanity at him and put a gun to his head.

Lee, having just been discharged from the Marines after having been overseas, wasn't about to let a thug end his life in that manner so he decided to fight back.

The man who grabbed Lee turned out to be Clint King, 20, who listed an address in the 1500 block of Comanche Drive, Champaign.

As Lee was struggling with King, a second man, later identified as Justin Battle, 21, who listed an address in the 1300 block of Comanche Court, Champaign, stepped forward and punched Lee in the face, knocking him to his knees.

King then fired a shot which hit Lee in the upper arm.

Kelly said both King and Battle began backing away and that King fired two more shots. The two then ran.

It was about 12:30 a.m. and Marc Sawyer was walking his dog Shayna, a Doberman pinscher, near First and Chalmers streets.

?I heard three loud bangs and looked around and saw this Asian-American guy kind of stumbling around. He said he'd been shot,? Sawyer recounted. ?Two guys stepped out from behind a building and took off running. I went after them. About Fourth and Chalmers they split up. One of them stopped and hit me in the face.?

Sawyer kept up the chase until the man who hit him - later identified as Battle - was cornered and police arrived.

Kelly said that Sawyer asked Battle why they shot Lee. Battle replied by asking Sawyer if he wanted to be shot, too. Kelly said Sawyer never saw a weapon.

Battle ended up telling Kelly about King's involvement and both men were ultimately charged with armed robbery and aggravated battery with a firearm. Battle was also charged with two counts of aggravated battery for hitting Lee and Sawyer.

In an agreement worked out by Assistant State's Attorney Mick McAvoy and Assistant Public Defender Janie Miller, Battle was allowed to plead to a less serious charge of robbery in return for the other charges being dismissed. McAvoy said without Battle's help, King never would have been caught.

On Tuesday, Judge Tom Difanis sentenced Battle to seven years in prison after hearing from both Battle and his father.

Porter Battle said he and his wife had adopted Justin, whom they've had since he was about 15 months old, and another son the same age and gave them every opportunity. He said as a child, his son suffered from night terrors. As a teen he began getting into trouble and ran away. Despite counseling, he engaged in other criminal behavior that landed him in the Department of Corrections' boot camp, an experience that the elder Battle said changed their son for the better, but only temporarily.

In court, Battle told his son he hoped he would make the best of his prison experience and when released ?get a new playground, new playmates, and new play items.?

Battle apologized for his behavior, saying he had no right to jeopardize Lee or the others. He admitted he supplied King with the gun used, but said he had no intention of hurting anyone when he and King planned the street robbery.

?I know I deserve seven years,? Battle said, asking Difanis for mercy. ?Even if you do give me seven, I plan on making the most of it. I am going to do something with my life.?

The charges against King are unresolved. If convicted of the most serious, he faces six to 30 years in prison.

And Sawyer, a junior in psychology and an ROTC cadet from DeKalb, was honored last month by the Champaign police department with a hero award for his bravery.

He said he didn't pause to contemplate his actions at the time, even though the people he was chasing had just shot a man.

?I guess I really didn't reflect on it at the time,? Sawyer said.

He added that his dog, while a Doberman and somewhat fierce-looking, is all show and didn't help much in the confrontation.

?She ran away when I got hit,? he said.

You can reach Mary Schenk at (217) 351-5313 or via e-mail at mschenk@news-gazette.com. You can reach Phil Bloomer at (217) 351-5371 or at pbloomer@news-gazette.com.

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