URBANA – A Champaign County jury on Friday convicted a Champaign man of shooting a man during a mugging last December, even though he said his friend fired the shots.
The jury took 20 minutes to find Clint King, 21, who listed an address in the 1500 block of Comanche Drive, guilty of aggravated battery with a firearm for shooting Brandon Lee in the arm on Dec. 18 while Lee was walking in the 100 block of South First Street in Champaign.
Judge Tom Difanis set sentencing for Oct. 3. The charge is a Class X felony carrying penalties ranging from six to 30 years in prison.
King testified that he was tying his shoe when he looked up and saw his friend, Justin Battle, engaged in a struggle with Lee, a 26-year-old former Marine and University of Illinois student.
"They were tussling," said King, who said he was about 5 feet away from the men. "I ran around, and I hit Mr. Brandon Lee in the face. I really don't know what's going on. I thought Justin was in a fight and he was really getting whooped."
King said after hitting Lee in the face, he backed up and saw Battle pull a gun and aim it at Lee.
"He fires a shot, there's a pause, he backs up about 5 feet, then fires two more shots," said King, who said he ran after the first shot was fired and never saw the second two.
Battle, 21, formerly of Champaign, is serving a seven-year prison term after pleading guilty in February to the robbery of Lee. More serious charges of armed robbery and aggravated battery with a firearm were dismissed in return for his plea and his willingness to name King as his accomplice.
Battle was arrested shortly after the attack a few blocks away. King turned himself in about three weeks later.
On Thursday, Battle testified that before the shooting he and King had been at Illini Tower on East Chalmers Street visiting with Battle's girlfriend and her roommate. Battle said he had consumed almost a fifth of whiskey on his own and that he had a gun in their apartment, which the girls did not know about.
Battle said that he and King made up a story to tell the girls why they were leaving but he couldn't remember what it was.
"We definitely had intentions of robbing someone of their property. How it came about, I couldn't tell you," he said under questioning by Assistant State's Attorney Mick McAvoy.
Battle said he recalled that he, King and Lee all "were involved in some sort of a tussle" but couldn't remember details and claimed he had "no idea" who had the gun.
"I don't remember if I fired or if he fired," Battle said, referring to King.
He had told police shortly after his arrest that King fired the gun.
Battle testified he remembered running and having an asthma attack that caused him to stop and vomit. Police found him by the UI Police Training Institute on Fourth Street and had him taken to the hospital. Battle couldn't remember where King went.
King testified that he ran back to Illini Tower to Lois Kim and Rebecca Hawkinson's room, where he had been partying before the shooting. There, he removed his jacket and got a sweatshirt from Kim. He said he called his mother to pick him up.
Kim and Hawkinson said they heard sirens, looked out their window and saw police taking Battle away. When King showed up, he was out of breath and panicky, Kim said.
She and Hawkinson asked him what happened and got a couple of different stories, both women testified, including that he and Battle had been held up and that the gun accidentally went off in the struggle.
Kim and Hawkinson said after King left, they took his clothes to Kim's cousin's apartment in Champaign and later lied to police by failing to tell them that King had been in their apartment. The women said they were scared.
Lee, the first person to testify, could not identify King, but was able to tell the jury about being confronted by two men, one of whom had a silver revolver. Having just returned from duty in Afghanistan last year, Lee said he instinctively resisted their efforts to rob him.
"Out of instinct, I grabbed the gun and tried to take it away because it was pointed at my face," he said. "As I was struggling, the other guy standing in front of me approached and threw a punch at my face."
The blow knocked him off balance, causing him to lose his grip on the gunman's hand. The gunman then backed away and fired, hitting him in the left shoulder. After being shot, Lee said he lay on the ground, hiding behind trees. The gunman fired two more shots in his direction but missed. He gathered his belongings and went to a nearby house to call for help.
His glasses, lost in the struggle, were found in Battle's pocket.
King's attorney, Ed Piraino of Champaign, argued that King was not responsible for the actions of Battle, but McAvoy argued it didn't matter really who fired the shot because King and Battle were equally culpable.
You can reach Mary Schenk at (217) 351-5313 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .