Calvin Williams murder trial

Assistant State’s Attorney Kristin Alferink, left, watches Calvin Williams examine a map of the area where his friend Gerryontae Brown was fatally shot in November while being questioned by his attorney, Public Defender Janie Miller-Jones, during his murder trial Friday at the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana. The jury convicted him of murder in Mr. Brown’s death.

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URBANA — Calvin Williams is marking his 19th birthday in the Champaign County Jail on Saturday, the first of many he’ll pass behind bars after being convicted of the first-degree murder of a former friend.

A Champaign County jury Friday took 40 minutes to reject Williams’ claim that he shot Gerryontae “Tae Tae” Brown, 16, in self-defense on Nov. 12, 2020.

Judge Randy Rosenbaum set sentencing for Dec. 8. Because the jury found that Williams was the person who fired the gun that killed Mr. Brown, he faces 45 years to life in prison.

Jurors heard testimony over four days about what happened Nov. 12, 2020, at the Brown home on East Eureka Street in Champaign, hearing from Williams last.

He testified Friday morning for about 50 minutes that he believed Mr. Brown had a gun in his hand that evening and that his life was in imminent danger, so he fired first.

Under questioning by his attorney, Public Defender Janie Miller-Jones, Williams denied that he was holding a grudge over money he believed Mr. Brown had taken from him in August.

The state had built its case on that motive and supported it with physical evidence and multiple witnesses who said they saw Williams outside the home with a gun about 5 p.m. that day.

Instead, Williams testified that he and friend Whitfield Harris, 20, had gone to “The End,” a nickname for north Champaign, to sell cannabis. They cut through a gap in the fence, a shortcut used by many, behind Mr. Brown’s home to make their way to Douglass Park.

Williams admitted he was armed.

“I had got robbed on that side of town, so (I had it) for protection,” he said of his reason for carrying a .22-caliber gun that he had bought about three weeks earlier.

Williams denied he intended to go to the Brown home but said once he was through the fence, he saw people outside that house.

“I saw some people with weapons reaching on their sides and yelling at us. I pulled my gun and shot in the air. I could see weapons and felt threatened,” he said, explaining that he intended to scare the group. “I ducked behind a car.

“I thought it was going to be a shootout. I didn’t run because I was outnumbered and thought I’d be shot,” he added, saying he continued to approach the house.

“I saw movement inside the house. I saw a shadow with what looked like a gun. I thought they were going to shoot out the window at me. I shot first,” he said, adding he had no intention of shooting Mr. Brown.

As he ran from the home with Harris, who was given immunity from prosecution for his testimony, Williams said he heard more shots.

“I thought they were shooting at me,” he said.

In closing arguments, Assistant State’s Attorney Kristin Alferink rejected any notion that Williams was justified in his use of force.

“He was shooting through that window to kill Tae Tae. There’s no other reason,” she said. “He wants you to believe Tae Tae was going to kill him. He’s just mad at Tae Tae, goes up to the window and shoots eight times.”

No weapons were found inside the Brown home that night. The gun that Williams used to kill Mr. Brown was recovered months later in Michigan where, Williams had fled the day after the killing, intending to return to that state to live.

Alferink argued that even if Williams was telling the truth about seeing others with guns, he had plenty of time to retreat after firing his warning shot since it sent many of those outside back into the Brown house.

Instead, Williams moved closer to the house.

She contended that Williams, who admitted he had researched second-degree murder while in custody for the past year, had plenty of time to mold his story to a self-defense claim after becoming aware of the state’s evidence against him.

“The defendant’s statement is totally unbelievable. None of the other witnesses say they are ducking behind cars,” she said.

Miller-Jones argued that there were inconsistencies in what the witnesses at the house saw. A next-door neighbor who testified seeing two men in black in the backyards of her home and the Brown home for about 15 minutes before the shooting happened was likely mistaken, Miller-Jones suggested.

“Is it possible she saw two different sets of people?” she asked.

She conceded that her youthful client should not have been carrying a gun, should not have fired a warning shot and should not have approached the house.

“We’re not him. We were not faced with what he was that day,” she said. “To Calvin, it happened really fast. He wasn’t stalking Gerryontae. He didn’t know when he went through the cut to sell his weed that Gerryontae would be there.”

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).

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