Jury convicts Champaign man of murder
URBANA — A Champaign County prosecutor explained to a jury Thursday that it didn't matter than Anthony Meads' friend didn't mean to kill Desirae Austin.
That she was killed during a mob action where another man was the target and that Meads was present when his friend fired the gun was sufficient to convict Meads of first-degree murder.
The seven men and five women hearing Meads' murder trial apparently agreed with Assistant State's Attorney Lindsey Clark.
After five hours of deliberation Thursday, which followed two days of testimony from about 17 witnesses, the jury convicted Meads, 21, of the 200 block of West Church Street, of the July 4, 2012, murder of Mrs. Austin.
The 20-year-old wife and mother of two was gunned down in the intersection of Thornton Drive and Cruising Lane in the Garden Hills subdivision of northwest Champaign about 10:30 p.m., not long after the fireworks display at Parkland College had ended.
Judge Tom Difanis set sentencing for June 21. Meads faces 20 to 60 years in prison. He and members of his family who were in court cried when Difanis announced the verdict.
The case laid out by Clark revealed that there were several people on the streets of the subdivision that night and that some of them were rival gang members itching to fight.
It was Johnnie Campbell's treatment of his girlfriend that apparently sparked a confrontation between the Gangster Disciples and the Black Peace Stones that escalated into co-defendant Treshaun Jake, 19, of Danville, firing multiple shots in the direction of Johnnie Campbell, 21, now of Texas, and his brother, Rajon Campbell, 23, of Champaign.
Neither of the Campbells was hit but Mrs. Austin died of a single gunshot wound to the chest.
Although Meads did not testify, and defense attorney Jim Dedman called no witnesses on Meads' behalf, the jury heard a lengthy recorded statement that Meads gave to Champaign police detectives in which he denied having fired any guns that night.
But moments after the shooting, Meads had the murder weapon, a .45-caliber handgun, in the waistband of his pants. Police found it on him as he stood in the driveway of 1607 Cruising Lane, an area scattered with spent shell casings.
Other witnesses said it was Jake who was actually shooting the .45-caliber gun when Mrs. Austin went down.
Meads claimed to have found the gun in the street and said he picked it up intending to sell it. He was charged with murder under the theory that he was accountable for the actions of Jake, who is scheduled to be tried in July.
Police also found a shotgun in the trunk of Meads' car that he also claimed to have found in the subdivision that night and picked up, again intending to sell it.
Witness Tiffany Dishman had testified she was standing over Mrs. Austin, calling for help on her phone, when Meads ran up to her holding a shotgun and asking where the Campbells had gone.
In arguments to the jury, Clark said although witnesses gave differing versions of what happened, the physical evidence in the form of shell casings bore out the notion that Jake and Meads were pursuing the Campbells and that Mrs. Austin was hit by a stray bullet.
Dedman tried to plant reasonable doubt by arguing there was no scientific evidence to support Meads' role in the crime and that the witnesses were not credible.