Jury convicts man of having gun but can't agree on if he fired it
URBANA — A Champaign man convicted of possessing a gun in July after having been convicted of two prior felonies is headed to prison for as many as 30 years.
A Champaign County jury of seven women and five men on Thursday found Anton Clark, 23, guilty of being an armed habitual criminal but could not reach a unanimous verdict on a charge of aggravated discharge of a firearm alleging that he shot at Jordan Brooks, 26, of Champaign, who allegedly returned fire.
The jury deliberated about 4 1/2 hours before returning with the mixed set of verdicts.
Brooks, who was not hit, was also charged with aggravated discharge of a firearm and aggravated unlawful use of weapon, and was scheduled to enter a plea Friday afternoon before Judge Harry Clem.
The exchange of gunfire July 28 was one of more than a dozen incidences of gunplay that plagued Champaign's north end during June and July and prompted community leaders to beg for an end to the violence.
Judge Tom Difanis set sentencing for Clark for Jan. 15. He also continued the unresolved charge to that date.
Prior to trial, Clark had turned down an offer from Assistant State's Attorney Troy Lozar to plead guilty to a charge that would have netted him a 15-year prison term, of which he would have had to serve about 12 years and nine months.
Testimony in the two-day trial was that the shooting happened about 2:30 p.m. that Sunday in the 1200 block of Carver Drive, Champaign.
Cora Davis; her adult daughter, Tina Gordon; and Davis' three teenage granddaughters were at Davis' home at 1210 Carver Drive when the shooting began. Davis was outside working in the yard and Gordon was nearby.
The women and two of the teens all testified that Clark fired shots that hit Davis' home. Only one of the teens testified that Brooks, a friend of the Davis family, returned fire.
The granddaughter who was in the home is developmentally delayed and did not testify. However, the other women said she was hit by glass from a shattered storm door during the afternoon skirmish.
Clark, his cousin and a friend, who were across the street outside Clark's home at 1213 Carver, all denied that Clark had a gun or fired any shots in the direction of Davis' house.
Clark said he saw a car and motorcycle pull up at the Davis home and recognized Brooks, then "shots were fired."
"I saw two people be shooting," he said. "The shots fired came from over there (by the Davis house). I didn't see the person but I heard it. I just know they house got shot up several times."
Clark said there was a "dude" he didn't know on his side of the street who was firing while he, his cousin and his friend ducked behind the friend's sport utility vehicle for cover.
"I took cover by the truck. It lasted for a nice little minute," he said of the gunfire. When it ended, he said, "I ran off. I jumped the fence and I ran off."
There was extensive police testimony about the several bullets that penetrated the Davis house and the angle at which they entered. However, there was only a mention by Clark's mother of "four or five bullet holes" in her home at 1213 Carver.
Beverly Clark said there were many people in and out of the Davis house regularly, and she didn't like that but said she never fought with them.
Lozar argued that Davis, Gordon and the teenage granddaughters were all consistent in their testimony that Clark had fired the gun in the direction of their home and had no reason to lie. He called the women brave to come forward with the information they did.
Clark's attorney, Jim Dedman of Urbana, said that the shooting had to be put in the context of the tension between the Davis household, where Brooks often hung out, and the Clark house. Bravery notwithstanding, Dedman said the evidence was not strong enough to prove Clark guilty of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
After the unusual verdict, Dedman speculated that the jury must have believed his client had the gun but couldn't agree on whether he shot at Brooks.
Clark was charged with the Class X felony of being an armed habitual criminal for possessing a weapon at a time when he had prior felony convictions for possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and aggravated battery.