URBANA — A Champaign County Jail inmate admitted to another prisoner that he had been involved in a fatal shooting in Champaign, according to testimony Friday in a Champaign County murder trial.
Multiple-convicted felon Dennis Griham, 51, told jurors that Michael Chatman, 21, told him that he had shot Ricky Green on March 23, 2018, as he tried to rob Mr. Green of his gun.
Griham, now serving a Department of Corrections sentence for aggravated driving under the influence, testified that Chatman was placed in the same cell block as him in Urbana in early February 2020 and that after a couple of days of small talk, Chatman began confiding in him details surrounding Mr. Green’s death.
Griham admitted he shared his information with police in hopes of being sentenced to drug court for his DUI. However, he was sentenced to prison when he was found ineligible.
Among the details Griham said he knew from talking to Chatman were that co-defendant Michael Simmons had contacted Chatman on March 22, 2018, to “do a lick,” street parlance for committing a robbery.
Simmons and Chatman reportedly picked up Mr. Green in Urbana that day, drove around and drank cognac together. They ended up that evening at the Shadowwood Mobile Home Park in north Champaign, where Chatman’s mother’s friend lived.
According to Griham, Chatman said he got out of the car with Mr. Green, they argued and the gun went off accidentally, hitting Mr. Green twice.
Chatman also told Griham that he lost one Timberland boot in the scuffle and a second one later and had to hide under a mobile home because police were nearby. He said his gun was a Glock, which he disassembled, and that there was another gun left in the car in which they had arrived at Shadowwood.
On Thursday, another witness said Chatman had shown up at her door on Bradley Avenue early on March 23 without any shoes or shirt and in dirty jeans, and asked to use her phone.
Earlier Friday, 20-year Champaign police Officer Nathanael Epling testified he was on a welfare check in the Shadowwood Mobile Home Park early on March 23, 2018, standing by as other officers checked out a silver Malibu that had stopped in the middle of the road in the 0-100 block of Apricot Drive.
He said that passengers that he and another officer had seen in the car minutes earlier on another street in the mobile-home park were no longer in it and the doors were left open. Only one “excited” woman remained with the vehicle.
As Epling’s partner was talking to her, Epling said his attention was drawn to an area between two nearby mobile homes.
“I heard what I thought was yelling or some kind of loud noise to the northeast,” Epling testified.
Following the sound but unaware of any shooting in the mobile-home park, Epling said he spotted a black boot in the grass between the two homes. As he walked, he heard what sounded like someone yelling for help.
Seconds later, police were alerted that shots had been fired in the 0-100 block of Juniper Drive, which Epling estimated was 150 yards north and east of Apricot, where he and his partner were with the Malibu.
At that scene, other officers were trying to save Mr. Green, who had been shot in the shoulder and groin and was bleeding profusely.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Shiping Bao testified that either of the two shots that hit Mr. Green could have killed him because they hit major arteries, causing profuse bleeding.
Epling said he tried to maintain the integrity of the crime scene as the others rendered aid.
Among the items found near Mr. Green’s body on Juniper, besides his clothing that had been removed while police worked on him, were a matching black boot under a van near his body, a brown Timberland boot near the driveway, two bullet casings and a live round.
The casings were .40 caliber, Epling testified, and could not have come from a .357 revolver such as the one found on the floor of the back seat of the Malibu on Apricot.
Police also found in the driver’s door of that car an Illinois identification card belonging to co-defendant Michael Simmons.
Over the objection of defense attorney Kevin Nolan, jurors also heard that Chatman pleaded guilty in August 2019 to possessing that .357 revolver on the night of March 22, 2018. It wasn’t until six months later that he was charged with Mr. Green’s murder.
Prosecutors wanted the jury to hear of his admission that he had the gun to support their theory that he and Simmons had planned to rob Mr. Green of his gun.
Mr. Green was killed with his own weapon, they believe. To support that contention, the jury heard that on Feb. 26, 2018, about a month before his death, Mr. Green had fired his gun in the air from a vehicle that he was in with others in the 700 block of Kenwood Road, Champaign.
Casings found the next day by a Comcast worker — and collected by police — came from the same gun as the casing found near Mr. Green’s body, which is how police knew he’d been shot with his own weapon.
The jury will be back Tuesday to continue hearing evidence since Judge Randy Rosenbaum has other cases scheduled for all day Monday.