DANVILLE – In about 45 minutes Friday, a Vermilion County jury found Ammon Gray guilty of robbing and murdering Kenneth Blondeel in his Westville apartment.
The evidence never connected Gray, 32, of Danville, to the actual stabbing of Mr. Blondeel, who was stabbed more than 80 times because he would not turn over cash from an inheritance.
But the prosecution argued that the evidence clearly showed that Gray actively participated in the home invasion and robbery, making him accountable for the murder of Mr. Blondeel.
The defense maintained throughout the trial that Gray was not a willing participant in the murder, home invasion or robbery, arguing that he was drunk and afraid of co-defendant Marlon Williams, 27, of Danville.
"You don't get in the middle when that guy has a knife. It's reasonable to do what that person wants," argued defense attorney Roy Wilcox.
Gray and Williams allegedly knew about Mr. Blondeel's inheritance and went to his apartment on May 22. After being let in, they began beating him and stabbing him and demanding the money in front of his girlfriend, Rachel Ryan.
Leaving him for dead, they allegedly took Ryan against her will along with Mr. Blondeel's ATM card and tried to make cash withdrawals. They eventually let Ryan go.
Williams also faces murder, home invasion and robbery charges in the case. He's accused of actually stabbing Mr. Blondeel. His trial is scheduled for March 6. The state decided to try the men separately.
Gray's guilty verdict moved to tears some of Mr. Blondeel's relatives and friends, including Ryan. The jury began deliberations at 11:05 a.m. after closing arguments and had a verdict by 11:45 a.m.
Assistant State's Attorney Larry Mills explained to the jury that felony murder is one that takes place in the commission of another felony. And an accomplice, such as Gray, is also accountable for the murder if he helps or agrees to help in the commission of that felony.
"Look at all the opportunities this man (Gray) had to, if not stop this crime, get away, if he wasn't really involved," said Mills, who reminded jurors of evidence pointing to Gray's involvement:
– Ryan testified that Gray hit and kicked Mr. Blondeel at times, although the defense argued that in her initial statements to police, she indicated that Gray did nothing.
– Gray and Williams parked their car several blocks away from the apartment that night. The prosecution argued that they wouldn't park that far away if they were just going to hang out with him.
– Co-workers testified that Gray was friends with Mr. Blondeel, but not Williams who actually hit Mr. Blondeel once in the breakroom. Williams is not a guy who would go to Mr. Blondeel's apartment to hang out.
"Who's the one who could get (Williams) in the door? The man (Blondeel) got along with," Mills argued.
– Co-workers also testified to overhearing a conversation involving Gray and Williams talking about robbing Mr. Blondeel days before his death.
– Ryan and convenience store employees testified that Gray is the one who took Ryan into two local convenience stores with Mr. Blondeel's ATM card to get cash while Williams waited in the car.
"What this defendant did is just as evil and wrong as what Mr. Williams did," Mills said.
Mr. Blondeel's family did not want to comment with the second murder trial involving Williams still pending.
State's Attorney Frank Young said he is happy for the family of Mr. Blondeel.
"While it will certainly never substitute for the loss of a loved one, it will add a little closure," he said.
Commenting on the quick verdict, Young said one never knows what a jury is thinking.
"In this case, it seems they understood the evidence presented and the way it was presented, and how we believed the crime was committed," he said.
Gray's sentencing is scheduled for April 6. He faces from 20 to 60 years in prison.