Jury convicts man in Rantoul motel shooting
URBANA — Martreail Patton told a Champaign County jury he stood by watching as his cousin fired the shot that gravely injured a man at a Rantoul motel last fall.
And although his attorney argued Patton had no idea that would happen, the jury convicted Patton anyway of aggravated battery with a firearm for the Oct. 18 shooting of Artez Winston, 20, at the Rantoul Motel, 301 N. Century Blvd.
Patton faces six to 30 years in prison when Judge Tom Difanis sentences him on June 9.
Patton, 19, of Danville, also admitted to the jury that after Winston was shot in the chest, he sent a text message to his girlfriend with the words: "OK, I think I just killed someone."
That "ill-considered message" was "not a confession" but a show of bravado, argued Patton's attorney, Dan Jackson of Champaign.
Testifying Thursday, Patton said his older cousin, who was never criminally charged, was the shooter. Patton maintained he stood nearby holding a gun on Winston and Winston's older brother while his cousin fired.
Winston, however, was adamant in his testimony Wednesday that Patton was the man who fired a single bullet into his chest, resulting in him losing one kidney and having his liver lacerated. Winston identified Patton both in court Wednesday and in previous photo lineups. Winston said he'd never seen Patton or his cousin before Oct. 18.
Both sets of men had checked into the motel that Friday intending to use it as a party place.
Patton said he, his brother and three cousins traveled to Rantoul that day to get away from Danville for the weekend and to look for jobs and a new place to live.
Winston, of Rantoul, said he and his older brother, Alandize Winston, and Alandize's girlfriend, checked in to party.
The dispute started about 6 p.m. when, according to Artez Winston, his brother arranged to sell $10 worth of cannabis to Patton's cousin, who had only $8. Patton said neither Winston gave them the cannabis so they wanted either the cannabis or their money back and were arguing loudly enough about it to attract the attention of the motel manager.
Patton testified that he and his cousin were in their room a few doors down from the Winstons' room, when the Winstons began pounding on the door and yelling.
He said his cousin ordered him to go to the manager to get the key to the room next door. Their group had also rented that room but the key was with another of their relatives who had gone out for food. Patton obtained the extra key and he and his cousin entered that room.
Once inside, Patton claimed, his cousin declared in coarse street language that they needed to shoot the Winstons.
"He went to the bed and flipped the mattress and grabbed two guns," said Patton, who claimed he didn't know they were there before his cousin handed him a revolver, keeping a semi-automatic for himself.
Patton also said his cousin opened the door and that both of them pointed their guns at the Winston brothers, ordering them to go away.
"I said, 'Just leave. We don't want to have to do this,'" Patton said. He said Artez Winston then reportedly rushed at his cousin, who shot Winston in the chest.
Winston testified earlier that Patton's cousin stood behind the door while Patton came out of the bathroom, pulled the gun from his waistband and fired.
Patton said his cousin fired two more shots, one of which hit Alandize Winston. He said he followed his cousin outside and fired the revolver once into the parking lot pavement before he and his cousin fled in a truck.
They went to an aunt's home in Rantoul, picked up another cousin and went back to Danville. They threw the guns in water from a bridge on Grape Creek Road outside of Danville, he said. Police never found them.
Patton said after the shooting, he called his brother, who had been eating in Rantoul, warning him not to return to the motel. He said he then sent a series of text messages to his girlfriend telling her that he loved her and might not see her for a while.
When she pressed him to say what happened, he responded with: 'I think I just killed someone.'
Assistant State's Attorney Stephanie Weber argued that Patton's text message was a confession that he had indeed fired the gun and that Artez Winston's identification of Patton as the shooter was "unequivocal."
And if that wasn't enough to convince jurors of his guilt, Weber said, at the very least, he was accountable for the actions of his cousin.
"He's guilty any which way you cut it," she said.
Under questioning by Jackson as to why he sent the text, Patton said: "At the time I wanted to be a tough guy to my girlfriend but I didn't want to implicate my cousin. I didn't know what he was capable of."