URBANA — A Champaign County jury is expected to decide Friday if an Urbana man is guilty of murder because he allegedly passed a gun to a friend who killed a man.
Cory Jackson’s attorney, Steve Sarm of Champaign, rested his case Thursday afternoon after calling five witnesses on behalf of his 32-year-old client, accused of participating in the July 21, 2018, first-degree murder of Martez Taylor, 27, of Champaign.
Jackson is charged under the theory that he is accountable for the actions of Keith Campbell, 28, the man authorities believe actually fired the gun.
Charged with first-degree murder within days of the killing, Campbell, who last lived in Champaign, has not been found.
As is his right, Jackson chose not to testify, but he has been actively engaged in his defense with Sarm throughout the trial, which began Monday with jury selection before Judge Heidi Ladd.
Undisputed testimony is that Jackson was one of dozens of people inside and outside a townhome in the 1900 block of East Florida Avenue in Urbana during a party that started July 20, 2018, and went into the wee hours of July 21.
Several witnesses agreed that there was a physical fight inside between Mr. Taylor and Keith Campbell, also known as “Nani G,” reportedly over Mr. Taylor bumping into Campbell when he entered the house from outside.
Mr. Taylor, a muscular football player, succeeded in putting Campbell on the floor, then left and sat in his cousin’s car in the driveway to wait for her.
While he was in the back seat on the driver’s side, someone approached and fired at least five shots at him through the window.
Dr. Shiping Bao, who conducted the autopsy, said Mr. Taylor was hit with three bullets.
The fatal shot entered his upper left chest, traveling downward as it went front to back. It tore through his heart and a major vein, causing massive internal bleeding before lodging in a lung.
A second shot to his upper left side went in and out of his body. A third slug was recovered from his left thigh, Bao said.
Among the witnesses Sarm called Thursday was Ricky Hunt, who testified that he and Jackson had spent much of the day together running errands before going to the party.
Hunt said he never saw Jackson with a gun that day. Hunt said he was sitting in Jackson’s car smoking marijuana when he saw people running and heard shots. Jackson, he said, returned to the car to leave and was not panicked or nervous.
“He was cool,” Hunt said.
Another party-goer, Vincent Mosley, testified that he knew and was friends with both Jackson and Mr. Taylor.
Because his car was parked near the one Mr. Taylor was in and he was intending to leave the party, Mosley saw some of what happened.
“One guy opened the door. One slammed, then there were shots. I seen Cory Jackson, but he wasn’t at the back of the car,” Mosley said. “He was at the front. He was saying, ‘Hold on,’ as in ‘Slow down.’”
Mosley said he never saw Jackson pass a gun to anyone and didn’t see who fired the shots into the car.
Mosley said because his car was not blocked in the driveway, he agreed to take Mr. Taylor to the hospital. He told police at the hospital he had no idea who shot Mr. Taylor.
“I still don’t,” he testified.
Sisters Malaia and Alisha Turner, cousins to Mr. Taylor, testified for the state that they saw Jackson hand a gun to Campbell that Campbell used to shoot Mr. Taylor.
Malaia Turner talked to police right away, although she admitted that she initially implicated only Jackson in the killing. It wasn’t until about a month ago that she told police that Campbell was the shooter and that Jackson had handed him the gun.
Alisha Turner said she came forward only weeks ago because she was afraid of Keith Campbell’s brother, Keontae Campbell, who had threatened Malaia Turner for talking with police. She agreed to talk to police, she said, after Keontae Campbell was jailed on drug and weapons charges.
Two other women at the party, Yasmine Nichols and Shakeyla McCoy, also testified that they first told police in July 2018 that Jackson had handed the gun to Campbell, but on the witness stand Wednesday, both said they had lied about that at the urging of Allen Williams, a relative of Mr. Taylor, then testified that they didn’t know who shot Mr. Taylor.
Sarm spent quite a bit of time questioning Urbana police Detective Jeff Steinberg about why he and fellow Detective Matt Bain released two of Mr. Taylor’s cellphones that were in the car near him to Malaia Turner three days after the shooting without having downloaded data from either.
Steinberg testified that he saw nothing on the phones “that caused me concern” and that Mr. Taylor’s family wanted the phones to get pictures off them as they prepared for his funeral.
“There was nothing related to this incident that I observed,” he said, admitting he had no way of knowing if messages on the night of the shooting might have been deleted.
“We felt what we were doing was reasonable,” Steinberg said of his and Bain’s meeting with Malaia Turner regarding the phones.
During that meeting, in answer to Malaia Turner’s questions, Bain said to secure a conviction against Jackson, police needed more eyewitnesses to come forward.