Armed robbery trial ends with hung jury
URBANA — A Champaign County jury Wednesday got hung up, so to speak, on a Melrose Park teen's contention that his friend coerced him into committing an armed robbery in Champaign this past winter.
After deliberating about four hours, jurors trying to decide the guilt or innocence of Tavarus Murray, 17, told Judge Harry Clem that they could not reach a unanimous verdict, and he declared a mistrial. Clem set the case for retrial on Sept. 8.
A jury was selected Tuesday to hear about the Feb. 9 holdup of University of Illinois students Stephen Mysko, 22, and Denise Reynish, 19. The couple was walking in the 600 block of East White Street in Champaign about 6:15 p.m. that Sunday when they were accosted by two young men.
Reynish, who was a few steps behind Mysko, said she was grabbed from behind by the taller of the two, later identified as co-defendant Derrick Cox, 20, who was living in Urbana. His case is unresolved.
Mysko testified he tried to help her when Cox allegedly pulled a gun and put it in Mysko's mouth. Mysko told the jury he could feel the barrel touching his tongue and teeth.
Murray, meantime, reached in Reynish's pocket and took her iPhone then grabbed her backpack, which contained a textbook, a Macbook Air laptop computer, homework and a pill bottle.
All those items were recovered minutes later when UI and Champaign police stopped a Lincoln Town car near University and Goodwin avenues in Urbana that had five occupants, including Murray and Cox. Mysko had followed the pair as they ran to a waiting car and immediately gave the description of the vehicle to police.
After the stop, Mysko and Reynish looked at each of the occupants but identified only Murray and Cox as the robbers. The backpack and the phone were in the back seat. The gun was found under the back seat.
Murray testified he came to Champaign two days earlier with his long-time friend without his mother's permission. It was his first visit here, he said, and he knew no one but Cox. They spent much of the weekend in an apartment playing video games and went out Sunday evening. He thought they were going to County Market when he saw Mysko and Reynish walking.
"He ran up on 'em real fast. He did like a little creep, a quick move. I stopped. He put the gun to the guy," Murray said, explaining he didn't know Cox had a gun or intended to rob the couple.
"No, I didn't say anything at all, ma'am," he told Assistant Public Defender Stephanie Corum. "He put the gun on her. I was tweaking, come on. He took the bookbag off the girl and we walked off. I was nervous. I didn't know he was going to do anything like that."
He went along with what Cox was doing, he said, because "I was afraid he was going to shoot me. I had nowhere to go and I was high on marijuana."
Murray said he put on the backpack at Cox's command and got in the waiting car with the others but declined to touch the gun that Cox told him to put under the seat.
When they saw police moments later, Murray said Cox instructed him: "Don't say nothin'. You're a minor. You're going to get out if anything happens."
Murray was charged as an adult.
Champaign police Detective Robb Morris interviewed Murray for about 55 minutes at the police department and described the teen as "relaxed and rather nonchalant" during the first half of the interview as he denied knowing anything about the robbery.
Morris said Murray then "volunteered" that Cox produced the gun and took the property as he stood back and watched.
"He minimized his role, certainly," Morris said, adding that Murray never said that Cox told him to take part or that he felt threatened by Cox.
Morris also said he did not believe Murray was under the influence of anything. Cox declined to talk to him.
Assistant State's Attorney Lindsey Clark said the case came down to whether the jury believed the victims or Murray and she urged them to reject the compulsion defense.
She said the victims and Murray all agreed there was no talking during the actual holdup yet Murray and Cox knew what to do.
"When they walk straight up and do their jobs, they talked in advance," she said. "Why is the car waiting for them? Because the armed robbery had been planned."
Corum countered that it was Cox who told the victim "give me your stuff" then held the gun on them and took the items.
"Tavarus was compelled by the words of Derrick Cox. He (Murray) had no idea he (Cox) had the gun until then," Corum argued.