Peoria man convicted of third armed robbery

URBANA — A Peoria man with two prior armed robbery convictions was convicted of a third on Thursday.

A Champaign County jury deliberated about 80 minutes, including taking time to eat lunch, before finding John Williamson, 29, guilty of the April 12, 2012, holdup of a Champaign man who was robbed of some of his casino winnings.

Judge Tom Difanis set sentencing for July 24. Because of the prior convictions, Williamson faces six to 60 years in prison.

His co-defendant, Marvino Mister, 24, of Peoria, was convicted of the armed robbery in December and is serving a 30-year sentence.

Mister was identified as the actual robber and Williamson was found to have participated in the planning, making him equally guilty.

Testimony at Williamson's trial, which began Monday, was that he and Mister spotted Sean Harrigan, 23, of Champaign at the Par-A-Dice casino in East Peoria that early morning. Video surveillance footage showed that the men were in and out of the casino, passing by Harrigan at a craps table, where he won about $23,000 over the course of several hours.

Harrigan testified that he and two friends drove back to Champaign on Interstate 74 and as he was about to get out of his car in the garage of his apartment complex at 512 S. Third St., an armed man immediately approached and demanded his money.

When Harrigan balked, the robber threatened to shoot. Harrigan then handed over his driver's license, cellphone and about $2,300 that was in a pants pocket. The robber insisted Harrigan had more cash and was demanding it but ran before getting more because a car pulled into the parking garage.

Police immediately began a search for Harrigan's cellphone, to no avail. And after learning how quickly Harrigan was approached after pulling in, they concluded he was followed from the casino.

Viewing surveillance video from the hours Harrigan was there, casino security officials quickly honed in on Mister and Williamson. Later on the day of the robbery, Harrigan picked Mister out of a lineup, saying he was "85 percent" sure of his identification.

Mister testified on behalf of Williamson that he had acted alone in the armed robbery but invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself when Assistant State's Attorney Lindsey Clark pressed him for particulars. Clark maintained that Mister no longer had that right since he was convicted and sentenced. Nonetheless, Mister refused to answer most of her questions.

In his own defense, Williamson admitted being at the casino with Mister but said he parted company with him moments after they pulled out of the parking lot and didn't know what Mister had planned.

Williamson also claimed that he had loaned Mister his cellphone because Mister's had gone dead earlier in the evening.

Clark built much of her case against Williamson on records from his cellphone that showed calls being made in locations between East Peoria and Champaign about the same time Harrigan and friends were traveling home from the casino, including a call to Williamson's friend, Leavell Allen of Urbana.

Allen testified that Williamson had called him early one April morning asking for directions to get out of the campus area of Champaign but Allen said he didn't ask why.

Allen also testified, under subpoena from Clark, that Williamson called him from the Champaign County Jail on Dec. 7. In that recorded conversation, played twice for the jury, Williamson urged Allen to tell the police that it was Mister who had called him on the morning of April 12, 2012.

In closing arguments, Clark said the surveillance video from the casino, the phone records and the recorded conversation between Williamson and Allen amounted to "overwhelming" circumstantial evidence that suggested Mister and Williamson both lied about Williamson's role in the holdup.

Defense attorney Dan Jackson of Champaign maintained there was no evidence that Williamson participated in the robbery and that it was plausible that he had given his phone to Mister to use that morning.

Clark said even if the jury believed Williamson's claim that he was never in Champaign, the fact that Williamson supplied Mister with information about Harrigan's winnings while at the casino was enough to hold him accountable for the robbery.

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Joe American wrote on June 13, 2013 at 2:06 pm

"A Champaign County jury deliberated about 80 minutes, including taking time to eat lunch, before finding John Williamson, 29, guilty....."

Perhaps the best journalistic line I've read in years! Kudos.

rsp wrote on June 13, 2013 at 2:06 pm

If they paid better they might have skipped lunch. Not like they were emotionally involved and had to think about it. 

annabellissimo wrote on June 14, 2013 at 3:06 am

That is some great police work!  Congratulations!  Pretty scary situation that a predator would stalk the victim all the way from East Peoria to Champaign. Really good police work!