URBANA — A Champaign County prosecutor said James Ellis died in his makeshift home three years ago because his stepson knew he kept drugs and money there.
Tryone Franklin, 19, whose last known address was in the 2400 block of East Oregon Avenue, Urbana, is charged with the Dec. 19, 2008, first-degree murder of Mr. Ellis, 34.
He was shot to death in the garage at his mother's home in the 1900 block of Joanne Lane that he had turned into a two-room home for himself, his wife, and his children, three of whom were present when he was killed.
In opening statements Tuesday to the jury, Assistant State's Attorney Dan Clifton said the victim had chosen drug dealing as a means of supporting his family.
"He let his stepson, Tyrone Franklin Jr., find out he was keeping drugs and money in that garage," Clifton said.
Clifton said in the early morning of Dec. 19, Franklin got three friends and went to the home, parking around the corner. Two of them — Franklin and Demarco Taylor, 20, who's already been convicted of the murder — donned masks and barged in while the family slept. Each was armed with a handgun, and while Franklin held a gun on Mr. Ellis, Taylor held one on Melinda Ellis as they demanded money.
Clifton said Mr. Ellis instructed his wife to hand over money, and as she reached for it, Taylor pulled the trigger repeatedly but the gun didn't fire.
"When James heard the gun clicking, he thought it was fake and decided to fight Tyrone," Clifton said.
The two scuffled through the room where Mr. Ellis' young son was sleeping on the floor, then moved to the adjoining room where two other children, ages 10 and 11, were present.
Clifton said Mr. Ellis grabbed Franklin around the legs and Franklin yelled at him to let go. When he did, Franklin shot Mr. Ellis.
The men fled from the home and got into the car where Jonathan Brumfield, 22, and Laniel Bradley, 22, were waiting. As they fled, they threw bloody clothing out the window. It was DNA extracted from that clothing that ultimately linked Franklin to the shooting, Clifton said.
"The officers started with almost nothing. The shooters were wearing masks. They had no murder weapon. They dug into walls and got bullet fragments, they collected fingerprints and blood swabs. They kept interviewing witnesses and following leads," he said.
The car the men were in was found junked in Danville. Even though it had been crushed, Champaign police went through it and found paperwork belonging to Brumfield. They talked to him and another man that all four of the assailants had talked to about the murder.
That other man and Brumfield, who is expected to testify, led them to Franklin, Taylor and Bradley. Bradley is serving a four-year prison term for unlawful sale or gift of a firearm to a minor after he admitted giving Franklin the gun used to kill Mr. Ellis. Franklin was 16 when Mr. Ellis was shot.
Taylor is serving a 40-year sentence.
Franklin's attorney, Alfred Ivy of Urbana, told jurors there would be discrepancies in the witnesses' descriptions of the armed men that would cast doubt on the state's case.
The trial, before Judge Harry Clem, is expected to last all week and possibly stretch into next week.