URBANA — A Champaign County jury Thursday rejected a Montgomery man’s explanation that he fatally shot an Urbana man in self-defense three years ago.
After hearing from 23 prosecution witnesses in four days, nine women and three men deliberated for five hours before convicting Micheal Chatman, 21, of first-degree murder for fatally shooting Ricky Green, 18, on March 23, 2018, in the Shadowwood Mobile Home Park just east of North Market Street and south of Interstate 74 in north Champaign.
Because the jury agreed with prosecutors that Chatman was robbing Mr. Green of his handgun when he shot Mr. Green with it, referred to as felony murder, Chatman faces 45 years to life behind bars when Judge Randy Rosenbaum sentences him Dec. 2.
The murder weapon was never found.
Jurors rejected Chatman’s claim that he was justified in shooting Mr. Green and therefore guilty of only second-degree murder. They also discarded the option to convict him of the less-serious involuntary manslaughter for unintentionally shooting him by acting “recklessly.”
In addition to the state’s witnesses — Champaign police, civilians, lab experts and a pathologist — jurors had about 150 exhibits to consider.
They also had the testimony of Chatman himself, who revealed under oath for the first time in the three-plus years since the killing that he was running from police and Mr. Green when he fired behind him in Mr. Green’s direction.
The Urbana 18-year-old was shot in the upper chest and groin. Either shot could have killed him, a pathologist said.
Moments before the shooting, Chatman said he and Mr. Green were together in a car in which they had been smoking cannabis and drinking and had two guns. As they bailed out to run from police, Chatman said he grabbed Mr. Green’s gun from the floorboard because it was close to his feet and he didn’t want police to find it.
Chatman said Mr. Green got “aggressive” with him when he refused to immediately give the gun back to him, leading Chatman to believe that if Mr. Green got the gun back, he would shoot Chatman.
Chatman said he fired to “scare” Mr. Green, a notion that Assistant State’s Attorney Kristin Alferink mocked throughout her closing argument as part of the tale that Chatman concocted in the almost 20 months he’s been in custody.
“He wants you to believe he’s in the fight of his life, but he’s holding the gun with both hands. How is that the fight of your life?” she asked the jury.
For more than an hour, she reviewed the state’s evidence against Chatman and co-defendant Michael Simmons, 23, who has yet to be tried.
Much of the state’s theory about the two of them intending to rob Mr. Green of his gun was based on text messages the men exchanged beginning early in the day on March 22, 2018.
“The plan was simple. Pick Ricky up, drive around, get high and drunk, and force him to give up his gun,” she said. “A lot of things did not go according to that plan.”
Although both Chatman and Simmons were immediately considered people of interest in Mr. Green’s death, they were not charged with his murder until February 2020.
In the interim, many Champaign police detectives and patrol officers continued to collect information from cellphones, social-media accounts and police informants.
“The defendant is constantly molding his case around the facts we have, the facts he has studied,” Alferink said. “Even after months of studying while in jail, his story is still unbelievable.”
Chatman’s attorney, Kevin Nolan of Champaign, argued that the evidence was simply not sufficient to believe that Chatman was planning to rob Mr. Green and that there were few witnesses present at the time of the shooting.
A former prosecutor now doing criminal defense work, Nolan was particularly skeptical of the testimony of fellow jail inmate Dennis Griham, who supplied police with information Chatman had shared with him about the shooting in hopes of getting a better deal on his felony case.
Nolan called Griham a “wily and resourceful veteran prisoner” who “crafted a story and was able to add details to make himself more valuable.”
But Alferink countered that both Griham and another informant had given police information that either they did not know or had not been made public.
He also reminded the jurors that Chatman was only 18 at the time and was being manipulated by “the gamesmanship” of police detectives who are allowed to lie to suspects as a means of eliciting information from them.
He called out Sgt. Dennis Baltzell for “playing the mother card, pushing a button to try to get him to admit to something,” so as not to disappoint his mother, who had persuaded him to talk to police.
As for the shooting, Nolan said there was evidence of a struggle with a gun.
“Mikey had it and Ricky wanted it,” Nolan argued. “Mikey took actions, and in a matter of seconds, Ricky Green was dead. Was he looking to kill Ricky or scared of being killed himself? Is it really hard to conclude that shooting behind you is reckless?”
Alferink countered in her rebuttal argument that there were few witnesses present because Chatman “strategically kills Ricky where there are no witnesses around: a dark trailer park in the middle of the night.”
“This can be a tragic accident and a felony murder,” Alferink argued.