URBANA — After being acquitted of the murder of his stepfather, an Urbana teen left the Champaign County Jail early Saturday morning.
Tyrone Franklin, 19, had been there more than 18 months, charged with first-degree murder in the death of James Ellis that occurred more than three years ago in Champaign.
A Champaign County jury deliberated about five hours Friday night before deciding that Franklin was not guilty of the Dec. 19, 2008, shooting death of Mr. Ellis, 34, who had been married to Franklin's mother.
Mr. Ellis was killed inside a garage that had been turned into living quarters at a house in the 1900 block of Joanne Lane, Champaign, owned by his mother. His wife was present as well as two young children when the killing occurred.
Four men were charged with murder but only one has been convicted of that crime.
Demarco Taylor, 20, of Urbana was sentenced in August 2011 to 40 years in prison by Judge Harry Clem after having been convicted of first-degree murder by a jury.
Franklin's trial last week in Champaign County was his second on the murder charges. In December, another jury could not reach a verdict and Judge Harry Clem declared a mistrial.
In both trials, the juries heard from Jonathan Brumfield, 22, of Champaign, that he was with Franklin, Taylor and a fourth man, Laniel Bradley, 22, of Urbana, about 2:30 a.m. that day, when they went to the home on Joanne Lane.
Assistant State's Attorney Dan Clifton said Brumfield testified he was getting a ride with the others to his girlfriend's house when the group went to Mr. Ellis' home. Brumfield said Franklin and Taylor went in the garage while he and Bradley stayed in the car. Brumfield said their intent was to get drugs and money from Mr. Ellis, who was a drug dealer.
Brumfield said Taylor came out first, followed by Franklin, who had a gun in his hand and told the others he had killed Mr. Ellis.
"He (Brumfield) is the one who put Tyrone there, knows who he is and heard (Franklin's) statement, 'I shot him,'" Clifton said.
In return for Brumfield's testimony, Clifton has offered to let him plead guilty to a lesser charge of concealment of a homicidal death with a recommendation that he receive no more than eight years in prison. His case is set for next week. Bradley pleaded guilty in March 2011 to supplying a gun to a minor for a sentence of four years in prison. At the time of Mr. Ellis' shooting, Franklin was 16.
In both trials, Franklin maintained that he was not with the group and had been at home.
His attorney, Alfred Ivy of Urbana, argued that Brumfield, a convicted felon, was not credible and that he was the likely shooter. The shooter was masked so the witnesses were unable to say who the person was but gave descriptions of the two men who had come in.
Had Franklin been the one struggling with Mr. Ellis, he argued that the children and Melinda Ellis, Franklin's mother, would have recognized his voice. They did not, he said.
Ivy said his client, who was 18 years and three months old when arrested, has grown about an inch and put on about 15 pounds since being jailed in August 2010. He said he thought it took a few moments before Franklin fully comprehended the import of the jury's decision.
"He just sat there, kind of confused. Somebody said, 'We're going to come and pick you up,' and only then he got animated. Then he did cut up and yell and screamed, 'Oh my God,'" Ivy said.