URBANA — A Champaign County jury Thursday acquitted a man of two gun-related crimes he had been accused of last fall.
After deliberating a little more than three hours, the jury decided that Andre Winters, 28, whose last known address was in the 2000 block of Cynthia Drive, was not guilty of being an armed habitual criminal nor was he guilty of aggravated discharge of a firearm for allegedly shooting at an Urbana man.
The charges alleged that Winters fired a gun at Ernest Mosley, 43, in the east Urbana neighborhood where Mosley lived on Oct. 12, 2013.
Mosley testified that he and Winters had run into each other at the High Dive bar in downtown Champaign about 2 a.m. that day as the bar was closing. Mosley, a part-time bouncer at another bar, said Winters had gotten into a fight at the High Dive. Mosley said he suggested to Winters that he should "grow up" and Winters responded with a threatening remark.
Mosley said he was back in his own neighborhood about 2:30 that morning socializing at a neighbor's garage in the 2600 block of High Street when four cars pulled up quickly, including one that stopped around the corner in front of his home on MacArthur Drive. He identified Winters as the passenger from the second car who jumped out, raised a handgun, and fired three shots at him.
Mosley turned and ran and was not shot.
Based on Mosley's identification, sheriff's investigator Dwayne Roelfs arrested Winters about 13 hours later at the home in the 1300 block of North Walnut Street in Champaign where he was living at the time.
Roelfs said he never recovered a gun but did find a case that would fit a .380-caliber gun. Three .380-caliber shell casings were found in the neighborhood where the shots were fired.
Roelfs also testified about phone calls made from a cellphone that belonged to Winters. Records showed that calls made from the phone between 2:23 a.m. to 2:37 a.m. began in the downtown Champaign area, continued north and east along Interstate 74, then back south in Urbana.
Assistant State's Attorney Troy Lozar argued that Winters was making the calls as he left the High Dive and headed to Mosley's neighborhood.
The combination of Mosley's identification, the gun case, and the cellphone records, the prosecutor argued, showed that Winters was responsible for shooting at Mosley. As a convicted felon, Winters is not allowed to have a gun.
However, Assistant Public Defender Jamie Propps called a friend of Winters to testify. Mark M. Brown Jr. said that Winters had left the prepaid phone in his car. Brown testified that he also left the High Dive about 2:30 a.m., went north to I-74, east to Urbana, then south toward his home on Prairie Green and that the phone remains in his car even now.
Two other defense witnesses and one for the state all said Winters was in Champaign at the time the shooting was happening in Urbana.
Propps also argued that it was unlikely that the shooter was firing in the direction of Mosley because no bullet holes could be found in any homes or cars in that area. She also questioned why police did not check for fingerprints on the gun case or test Winters for gunshot residue when he was arrested.
Winters has been in custody since his arrest Oct. 12.
Moments before his trial was to begin Tuesday morning, he asked Judge Tom Difanis for a continuance so he could fire Propps and hire his own attorney. When Winters told Difanis he didn't have an attorney ready to go, Difanis denied the request.
Winters is due back in court on Feb. 18 for a hearing to revoke the probation he was given in September for aggravated battery.
The revocation attempt is based on the armed habitual criminal and aggravated discharge allegations from October. It will be up to Difanis to determine, based on the same set of facts the jury heard this week, if it's "more likely than not" that Winters committed those crimes.
The standard in a jury trial is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.