Robber who followed winner from casino to C-U sentenced

URBANA — A Peoria man convicted of helping to rob a casino winner of some of his take has been sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Because of two prior convictions for armed robbery, John Williamson, 29, could have been sentenced to as much as 60 years in prison.

In June, a Champaign County jury found Williamson guilty of armed robbery for assisting Marvino Mister, 25, also of Peoria, in taking about $2,300 from Sean Harrigan at gunpoint during the early morning hours of April 12, 2012.

Over a period of hours prior to the holdup, Harrigan, 23, had won about $23,000 at a craps table at the Par-A-Dice casino in East Peoria. The trials of both Mister and Williamson included hours of surveillance video which showed the two of them in and out of the casino, watching Harrigan as his luck ebbed and flowed.

Harrigan and his friends left the casino, escorted by an armed guard to their car, about 4:30 a.m. and drove back to Harrigan's apartment building at 512 S. Third St., C. He was about to get out of his car in the underground garage when Mister approached quickly and pointed the gun at Harrigan before he could get out.

Mister demanded cash, and when Harrigan balked, Mister threatened to start shooting the friends who had already gotten out. Harrigan turned over his cellphone, driver's license and the cash that was in his pocket but was able to retain the bulk of his winnings, which were in an envelope behind his lower back.

When a car pulled into the garage, Mister ran off.

Assistant State's Attorney Lindsey Clark had built much of her case against Williamson on records from his cellphone which showed calls being made from it in locations between East Peoria and Champaign during the same time Harrigan and friends were returning to Champaign on Interstate 74. She also presented testimony from Leavell Allen of Urbana, a convicted felon and friend of Williamson, who testified that on one April morning around the time of the holdup, Williamson called him asking him for directions to get out of the campus area of Champaign.

Jurors also heard a taped statement of a call Williamson made to Allen from the Champaign County Jail on Dec. 7, 2012, in which he urged Allen to tell police that it was Mister who had called him on that morning.

On Wednesday, Clark recommended a sentence of 60 years in prison for Williamson based on his criminal history, which included adjudications as a juvenile for intimidation and obstructing a peace officer and convictions as an adult for residential burglary and two armed robberies.

Acknowledging it was Mister who stuck the gun in Harrigan's face and got the cash, Clark suggested to Difanis that Williamson may have been the "ringleader."

"His record speaks highly of his character. He has none," she said, calling him a "threat to society."

Williamson's attorney, Dan Jackson of Champaign, called the state's theory of Williamson's participation "speculative" and asked the judge for a sentence closer to the minimum.

Williamson maintained his innocence.

"I didn't do it. I wasn't involved. You don't know me," he said to Difanis and Clark.

Difanis called the robbery a "rather unique offense" given the planning that went into targeting a winning victim, then following that man for 90 miles to complete the holdup.

Reviewing Williamson's criminal history, Difanis said there was little to mitigate the sentence but said justice dictated that he receive the same sentence Mister did — 30 years.

Because no one was physically injured in the crime, both Mister and Williamson are eligible for day-for-day good time, meaning they could be out in 15 years if they get in no further trouble in prison.

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