Woman identifies accused in murder trial
URBANA — A woman who was standing over another woman who was fatally shot on the Fourth of July last year identified Anthony Meads as the man who approached her holding a shotgun looking for two other men.
Tiffany Dishman of Champaign testified Tuesday in Champaign County Circuit Court that she was standing over Desirae Austin in the intersection of Thornton Drive and Cruising Lane in northwest Champaign moments after Mrs. Austin fell to the ground, when Meads came up to her and another woman and asked which way Johnnie and Rajon Campbell had gone.
Police and prosecutors believe the Campbell brothers were the intended targets of Meads and co-defendant Treshaun Jake that night. But the brothers escaped harm and Mrs. Austin, 20, a wife and mother of two, was hit instead.
Jake, 19, of Danville, and Meads, 21, of the 200 block of East Church Street, Champaign, are both charged with her first-degree murder.
Assistant State's Attorney Lindsey Clark said in opening statements to the seven men and five women hearing Meads' trial that Jake is believed to be the shooter and that Meads, a member of the same gang as Jake, was working with him and therefore is accountable for Jake's actions.
So far, Dishman's testimony is the most direct Clark has presented that links Meads to the crime. Several other witnesses said Jake was the man who was firing a handgun that night in the direction of the Campbells.
Meads is being tried first before Judge Tom Difanis this week. His attorney is James Dedman of Urbana. Jake is tentatively set to be tried in July.
In the first day of testimony Tuesday, several witnesses said they had watched the fireworks display from locations on Mattis Avenue before returning on foot to the nearby Garden Hills neighborhood after 10 p.m.
Police officers who responded to a call of a shooting at 10:24 p.m. described a chaotic situation with several people in the street, some of them screaming and lining the streets near where Mrs. Austin lay dying.
Officers Phillip McDonald and Marshall Henry said after Mrs. Austin was taken away in an ambulance, they tried — unsuccessfully — to get witnesses to tell them who she was or what they had seen.
McDonald, the first officer to assist Mrs. Austin, said Meads approached him crying, wondering if the victim was his sister. McDonald said based on the description Meads gave him, McDonald told him it was not his sister.
Henry testified that Meads was standing in the driveway at 1607 Cruising Lane when Meads flagged him down wanting to know who was shot. Jake and another man were also in that driveway. As Meads turned, Henry said he heard a spent shell casing being kicked and quickly realized that there were several spent casings in the driveway, leading him and other officers to order the men not to move.
Another officer, Corey Phenicie, testified that he felt a bulge in Meads' waistband and believing it was a handgun, tackled Meads. Phenicie confirmed it was a loaded .45-caliber handgun in Meads' waistband.
Although interviewed that night, Meads and Jake were not held by police.
Johnnie Campbell, 21, testified an argument with his girlfriend prompted the dispute between him and Jake. Campbell said the girlfriend's sister mistakenly assumed he was going to hurt the girlfriend and summoned Jake, who acted as if he was going to fight Campbell in the street.
That prompted Johnnie Campbell to get help from his brother Rajon Campbell, 23, who was also in the neighborhood. The Campbell brothers said they approached Jake but decided to retreat.
"We turned to leave and heard someone say, 'Shoot at them' and we hid behind the front of a truck on the street," said Rajon Campbell.
Johnnie Campell said "there were a whole bunch of shots" whizzing past and when the firing ceased, he and his brother ran into an aunt's home on Thornton Drive. Although they did not see Mrs. Austin get shot, they saw her on the ground.
Johnnie Campbell, who said he knew Meads since middle school, said he did not see Meads that night and thought Jake had done all the shooting. Rajon Campbell said he did not know Meads.
Dishman said she was on the phone getting help for Mrs. Austin when Meads ran up to her "with a big old rifle pointed at me" and demanded to know where the brothers had gone.
Dishman said Meads then went down the street and fired at least two or three more shots from the shotgun.
On cross-examination, Dishman admitted that she did not initially tell police about Meads having a shotgun because no one asked her specifically about that. It was about four days later, under questioning by a detective, that she volunteered that information, she said.
The case was expected to go to the jury Thursday.