Listen to this article

URBANA — Jurors in the Champaign murder trial of Calvin Williams heard for the first time Thursday that Williams believed the young man he is accused of murdering last year was armed.

“He was reaching for a gun and I shot him,” Williams said in a phone call to his mother, made in the presence of two Champaign police detectives.

Williams is charged with the Nov. 12, 2020, murder of Gerryontae “Tae Tae” Brown, 16, of Champaign.

Mr. Brown was inside his East Eureka Street home about 5:15 p.m. that Thursday when several shots came through the kitchen window of the two-story home.

Struck in the back of the head and the chest, he was able to run upstairs, then collapsed when he reached the second floor.

The shot that pierced his aorta led to his death several minutes later, a pathologist testified.

“It was going to be me or him,” Williams told his mom.

The call to his mother came near the end of a videotaped interview that the jury listened to for two hours and 20 minutes.

The first 90 minutes were largely unproductive and unintelligible as Detective Jody Cherry tried to build a rapport with the 18-year-old, who appeared tired, cold and out of it.

Cherry and fellow Detective Art Miller were interviewing him Nov. 13 in the Berrien County, Mich., jail.

Williams and another man had been arrested in that county that day following a car crash and police pursuit near Niles, Mich., in the southwest corner of the state.

The tape played for the jury originated from Cherry’s body camera, which was propped on a Bible in an interview room. The Bible was evident in the single-frame picture for the entire interview.

The detectives tried mightily to get Williams to help them understand not only what had taken place on Eureka Street in Champaign, but why.

Previous witnesses testified about a dispute over money that had driven a wedge between the previously close friends.

In the interview, Williams eventually put himself and his friend, Whitfield Harris, 20, of Chicago, at the house.

Given immunity from prosecution, Harris testified earlier Thursday that he had been living in Champaign for a few months and met Williams at a restaurant where they both worked.

On Nov. 13, they left the place they had been sharing to go buy cannabis, which they smoked, then went to buy more.

Unfamiliar with the area, Harris said they first took a bus, then walked around about an hour.

“I don’t feel we’re buying drugs. I thought he was going to meet up with somebody he knew,” Harris said.

He described their approach to the house from a cut in the fence in the backyard of the home, which is just west of Douglass Park.

Harris said he saw four or five people outside Mr. Brown’s house and heard cursing back and forth between them and Williams.

He also said he stayed back in the backyard as he watched Williams look in the window and the back door, then eventually pull something from his hip and fire shots into a window.

“I heard about five or six shots, definitely more than three,” he said, unsure if anyone inside the home had fired back.

Harris testified he did not know Williams had a gun and said before they left their apartment, Williams was on the phone and mad about something.

Running together from the house after Williams fired the shots, Harris complained to Williams that Williams had put his life in danger.

“He put me on the radar. He made me a hit because I could be in trouble along with him,” said Harris, who was in custody as he testified for unresolved criminal cases in Cook County.

He described Williams’ reaction to the shooting as “just normal.”

“He was saying ‘It is what it is.’ He never told me he was scared of the victim,” Harris said.

But in his interview with the detectives, Williams claimed that he saw Mr. Brown inside the house with a gun.

Police did not find a gun in the Eureka home, where there were at least five other males present with Mr. Brown.

“It wasn’t like I was trying to kill him,” Williams told the detectives, who said he heard three shots fired after he had fired one.

“It was self-defense. After I had shot, I dropped the gun. I don’t know why. And then I picked it up, and when I picked it up there were three or four shots,” he told the detectives, claiming shots were fired at him, the opposite of what others who had been in the house testified.

Williams also told police that he threw the gun in a bush on Beardsley Avenue after the shooting. However, the gun was found in Niles, Mich., months later, not far from where the car that he and Harris had been in crashed.

Illinois State Crime Lab weapons analyst Vickie Reels testified Thursday that the gun found in Michigan was the one that fired the bullets for which several casings were found outside the window of the Champaign home.

In the interview with police, Williams never did give the detectives a reason for his dispute with Mr. Brown, a question that his mother asked him as well in their brief phone call.

“Calvin, you should never have been carrying a gun. What was your reason for carrying a gun?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Sorry,” he replied.

“Son, you have messed up your life. You know that. You’re in trouble now. Oh my goodness. I hate to hear that. Really, there’s nothing I can do but continue to pray for you,” said his mother, adding that she was relieved that the police caught him before he was killed on the streets.

“I love you, too. I always will. This is something that could’ve been avoided. You didn’t need a gun on you,” she said.

The state is expected to rest its case this morning.

Williams’ attorney said earlier in the week he might testify.

Judge Randy Rosenbaum told the jurors they may be starting their deliberations this afternoon.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).

Trending Videos