URBANA — An 18-year-old Champaign man who admitted his role in what a prosecutor described as a "savage beating" of an Australian researcher visiting Champaign-Urbana was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison.
Champaign County Judge Tom Difanis agreed to abide by the sentencing cap offered to Ralph Gray, whose last known address was in the 1100 block of Northwood Drive South, by Assistant State's Attorney Lindsey Clark.
"This was a senseless and brutal crime committed against another human being apparently just for sport," said Difanis.
Gray pleaded guilty in late October to the aggravated kidnapping of Clinton Fookes, 34, on Oct. 20 and 21, 2011.
A professor of artificial intelligence, Fookes was in town visiting colleagues at the Beckman Institute. He was walking back to his Urbana hotel alone from downtown Champaign when he was randomly plucked off the street by a group of young men who began beating him.
Fookes submitted a written statement to Difanis describing how the men laughed as they threw him into a van and continued beating him as they drove him Crystal Lake Park and ultimately north of Champaign where they dumped him in a field after having stripped him of most of his clothing and shoes.
It wasn't until several hours later that a good Samaritan saw Fookes alongside North Mattis Avenue and stopped to help after scores of drivers had passed him.
Fookes sustained brain bleeding, broken teeth, broken nose, broken eye socket, broken vertebrae, lock jaw, frostbite to his feet, damage to his wrist and continues to need counseling for post-traumatic stress syndrome. He also told Difanis he can't concentrate on his work and that his wife refuses to let their 2-year-old child sleep with them because of his violent nightmares.
The group got Fookes' cell phone, a small amount of cash, and credit cards. It was the cell phone number that led investigator Robb Morris, weeks after the attack, to Anthony Davis, who then implicated Gray and co-defendant Dorian Wills, 18, of Champaign. Wills was sentenced Monday to 20 years for aggravated kidnapping.
Davis, 18, of the 2400 block of North Neil Street, Champaign, was also supposed to be sentenced Wednesday but Clark and Davis' court-appointed attorney, Walter Ding, discovered as they prepared for sentencing that Davis had not been told the accurate number of years he could receive when he pleaded guilty in late October to aggravated kidnapping for the 20-year cap. The maximum is 30 years for the Class X felony.
The lawyers figured out that Davis was out on bond for a burglary at the time of the attack on Fookes and therefore must serve whatever sentence he receives for that consecutive to the seven years he got for a July 2011 burglary at the Savoy Walmart. Unaware of the timing of the crimes, Difanis had incorrectly told Davis his sentences could be served at the same time.
Davis will be allowed to withdraw that guilty plea and, knowing the possible penalties, can plead guilty again for the same promise of 20 years. His next court date is Jan. 4. He's currently serving seven years in prison for the burglary.
In sentencing Gray Wednesday, Difanis took a swipe at the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice for releasing him early for a previous crime with similar circumstances.
In February 2011, Gray, then 16, was adjudicated a delinquent minor for aggravated robbery and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to robbing a young man of cash and cell phone while pretending to be holding a gun to the man's head and threatening to kill him and his girlfriend. The man was also struck in the head.
Difanis noted that Gray, who could have been imprisoned until his 21st birthday, was incarcerated a total of eight months before his release in late September. Three weeks later, he was involved in the attack on Fookes.
"Apparently the aggravated robbery was merely a warm-up for Mr. Gray. Given the gratuitous violence, he is an incredibly dangerous young man and will continue to be an incredibly dangerous older man when he is released," the judge said.
Under truth-in-sentencing, the men will have to serve at least 17 years in prison.
Both Wills and Gray, who have children, apologized for their attack on Fookes. Both said they wanted to be able to act as fathers to their children.