URBANA — A Milwaukee man who police officers saw firing shots into another man at Marketplace Mall last year proclaimed his innocence moments before a judge sentenced him to 55 years in prison.
"I would like to apologize to the citizens of Champaign-Urbana, everyone at that mall. But I'm a victim, too. I was shot too, and I'm completely innocent. I didn't do it. That's all I'd like to say," said Dontrell Thompson.
Judge Heidi Ladd imposed the sentence Thursday on the 23-year-old man for the May 1 shooting of Tony Brock, 29, of Champaign.
Thompson and five other men came to Champaign from Milwaukee to get revenge on Brock for his alleged mistreatment of Thompson's cousin at a Champaign bar earlier that day.
A jury convicted Thompson in early March of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm in connection with the attack on Brock that started inside the mall on that Sunday afternoon and ended with Thompson firing shots into Brock outside near the Lenscrafters store.
He could have been sentenced to as much as natural life, which was what Assistant State's Attorney Troy Lozar urged the judge to impose.
Lozar had Champaign police detective Don Shepard testify about the "collateral damage" done that day in addition to Brock's injuries.
Shepard said there were several people both inside and outside the mall that Sunday afternoon when the shooting started about 4:40 p.m. Their reaction, he said, was "sheer panic."
"People weren't sure where the shots were coming from and they ran or got down to get away from the sound they were hearing," said Shepard.
Shepard said he recently learned of a mall employee who broke bones in his foot when he twisted his ankle trying to run from the gunfire. The man was off work six months and still can't stand for prolonged periods.
Shepard said the gunfire also broke windows at the Lenscrafters store and went in a wall there under a counter where a customer had been seated.
Before the shooting started, police were already in the mall parking lot looking for a vehicle that a woman reported had been driving erratically on Interstate 74 before heading to the mall. She called police after seeing a man get out with a gun.
Within seconds of Thompson firing on Brock, police were upon the pair, coming to Brock's defense by shooting Thompson.
"It's almost inconceivable there were no deaths," said Lozar, who said Thompson's actions demonstrated his disregard for human life.
Thompson's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Jim Kuehl, argued that his client wasn't responsible for any collateral damage "because he didn't know police would be there."
"He grew up on the streets in the milieu of violence and drugs," said Kuehl, noting a presentence report reference to Thompson shooting up heroin with his father.
Kuehl also argued that Thompson was "not the brains of the outfit" and therefore not deserving of a life sentence. He called for a sentence closer to the minimum of 31 years. Of the seven men charged, Thompson has received the most severe penalty.
Detailing Thompson's prior criminal convictions from Wisconsin, including robbery and recklessly endangering public safety with a firearm as an adult, and burglary and delivery of cocaine as a juvenile, Ladd was moved to comment that Thompson had packed a lot of criminal activity into his 23 years.
"He's contributed nothing to society but a steady stream of serious offenses," said Ladd, noting that Thompson has never held a job and does not support his 7-year-old son.
She called the woman who notified police and the officers who charged in to save Brock heroes and said without them, Brock would be dead.
"This defendant had no restraint, no concern. He was intent on one thing — his deadly mission," said Ladd.
"Here's a man who wouldn't hesitate to conduct an execution in a public place, a mall," she said.
Under truth-in-sentencing, Thompson will have to serve 85 percent, or almost 47 years, of his sentence. He was given credit for 341 days already served.
Those included the almost two weeks he was hospitalized from being shot in the face and shoulder.
Brock was shot twice in the buttocks and once in the thigh. One bullet perforated his bowel and intestine, another went in and out, and the third remains lodged in his thigh.