URBANA — A Champaign County jury will resume deliberating this morning the fate of a man accused of firing a gun outside a business and possessing weapons last summer.
Herbert Shah, 27, who listed an address on Leeper Drive in Champaign, was charged more than a year ago with aggravated discharge of a weapon for shooting at a man in the parking lot of Hollywood Liquors, 512 S. Neil St., C, on June 22, 2019.
He was also charged with two counts unlawful possession of weapons by a felon for having the gun he allegedly fired that day and another gun in his home about a week later.
Having a previous felony conviction, Shah is not allowed to have a gun.
The nine women and three men on the jury deliberated about seven hours Thursday without reaching verdicts on all three counts. Judge Randy Rosenbaum allowed them to go home for the night.
Jurors signaled their difficulty early in their deliberations by asking for a definition of “possession” and transcripts of testimony from two witnesses.
Testimony began Tuesday afternoon and ended Wednesday after Assistant State’s Attorney Kristin Alferink called 16 witnesses to build her case.
Chicago attorney Cierra Norris called no witnesses on Shah’s behalf, instead choosing to cast doubt on the state’s case through her cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.
Witnesses testified that just before 7 p.m. that Saturday, they saw two men arguing outside in the parking lot of the strip mall, then heard or saw several shots fired, followed by a man wearing a walking cast running north then east down an alley by the Fat City bar.
The person who was running was captured on surveillance video taken by the Jet’s Pizza next door to the liquor store.
One witness said he was sitting in his vehicle across Neil Street in the parking lot of Dunkin Donuts watching the altercation when a man in a white shirt pulled a gun and fired in the direction of a sport utility vehicle.
Using his phone, the witness recorded the two men fighting but turned it off when he heard shots, ducking down in his seat.
He testified the gun he saw was black or dark gray. However, another witness who had pulled in the strip-mall lot said she saw the man in the white shirt shooting at a parked SUV with a pink gun.
Both said he ran north, as did a third person who heard the shots but didn’t see who had fired.
An employee of Hollywood Liquors testified he heard shots but didn’t see them. Minutes before the shooting, a camera in the store recorded two men, both in white shirts, exchanging words. The employee heard the shots shortly after the men and one woman left the store.
Champaign police detectives Cully Schweska and Corey Phenicie said after initially responding to the shooting, they were given information by a man and woman who wanted to stay anonymous that led them back to the area later that evening. On the roof of Fat City, which is just northeast of where the shooting happened, Schweska found a pink Ruger handgun with an extended magazine.
Crime-scene technicians collected several projectiles and bullet casings from the parking lot near where the SUV had been, all of which an analyst from the state crime lab said came from the pink Ruger. The technicians also found at least four bullet holes and a broken window in the SUV.
Shah’s girlfriend also testified for the state, identifying herself and Shah in the video that the witness recorded from across the street. Shah was wearing a white shirt, jeans, white ball cap and a walking boot that day, she said.
She said she didn’t know the other man in the video — later identified by police as the man fired at — and said she didn’t know if Shah was having a fight with him. She also couldn’t recall if Shah rode home with her that day.
Confronted with a recorded statement she gave Phenicie days after the shooting in which she said the man and Shah had words in the store, the girlfriend said she didn’t recall saying that. She also said she didn’t remember saying the man threatened her on social media.
Shah’s parole agent also testified that Shah was wearing a walking boot when he visited him in June 2019.
After developing Shah as a suspect, police got a search warrant for his home on Leeper Drive. They went there June 28 and in a car in the garage, they found a Smith & Wesson revolver on the front passenger floorboard. Also in the car was mail addressed to Shah there.
Finally, Alferink presented evidence from a state crime lab analyst who said Shah “could not be excluded” as a contributor of DNA taken from both the pink Ruger and the Smith & Wesson. However, the scientist said there was also DNA from others on both guns.
It was that latter evidence that Norris seized on, arguing that the DNA was “messy” and “inconclusive” and that the state had failed to meet its burden of proof.
She also argued that the man the state alleged was being shot at wasn’t even called to testify. A Champaign police officer testified that the man had told him he would not testify in court. Likewise, the driver of the SUV that was shot up said she could not identify the shooter and was not called as a witness.
Further, Norris argued, the witness across the street was never shown a photo lineup. Alferink said it would have been irresponsible for police to do so since the witness said he didn’t get a good look at the shooter’s face.