URBANA — Young men who were in the Champaign house where a teen was slain last year said a neighbor had alerted their friend and brother that someone was outside in his backyard moments before shots were fired.
Five witnesses for the state testified Tuesday in the opening day of testimony in the first-degree murder trial of Calvin Williams, 18, who was living in the 2400 block of North Street, Champaign, when he allegedly shot his own friend, Gerryontae “Tae Tae” Brown, 16, over what a prosecutor said was a dispute about money.
Assistant State’s Attorney Tom Bucher said it was in August 2020 that Williams, who had lived with the Browns for a while, lost money at the Brown house and accused Tae Brown of taking it.
“From August 21st to 26th, 2020, their communications were about the money. Then they ceased until September 13th. That was the last message. Their friendship had soured,” Bucher said.
The prosecutor said testimony would show that on Nov. 12, about 5:15 p.m., Tae Brown was home with his younger brother, a couple of friends and a cousin when a neighbor saw two men wearing black, one with a gun, in the backyard of the Brown house and told Mr. Brown what she saw.
Bucher said Williams later admitted to Champaign police that he went to the Brown house and fired into it.
A 15-year-old male friend of Mr. Brown testified that he was in an upstairs bedroom playing video games with him when Mr. Brown received the call about the people in the backyard, prompting Mr. Brown and the others in the house to go outside.
Not seeing anything, they went back in but minutes later went out a second time, again following the lead of Tae Brown.
Two people were in the backyard by the fence, the 15-year-old testified.
“We (saw) the hand go up and we ran and we heard the shot. They shot one bullet and we ran back inside and locked the front door,” he said, adding he did not know who fired, even though he recognized one of the two people as “Calvin” but then could not identify Williams in the courtroom.
“Tae Tae called his mom, and that’s all I really remember,” he said, adding there were more shots minutes later that broke glass in the kitchen.
That teen, another 17-year-old male in the house and Mr. Brown’s younger brother all testified about a chaotic scene inside with the males running upstairs and downstairs.
Mr. Brown’s younger brother also testified about seeing two people outside and hearing a gunshot but not seeing who fired.
“We all went upstairs,” the brother said. “Tae Tae was calling people saying Calvin was shooting at him.”
Mr. Brown’s younger brother said Tae Brown was in the kitchen when six or seven shots were fired from outside the house, breaking the kitchen window.
The younger brother said he preceded Tae Brown up the stairs after that.
“He (Tae) ran up and said ‘Damn,’ and he fell on the floor,” realizing at the top of the stairs that he had been shot in the chest.
Those in the house called 911, family and friends.
Tussle in courthouseThe younger brother’s testimony was interrupted about 2:30 p.m. when two young men waiting to testify reportedly got into a tussle in the hallway outside the courtroom.
The thumping noises and loud voices caused about a dozen trial spectators to run from the courtroom into the hallway and join in the yelling.
Courthouse security officers were joined by several uniformed police officers who were in the courtroom next door waiting to testify at probable-cause hearings to break up the scrum and to try to calm the edgy participants and the loud spectators.
The jury heard about a minute of the commotion before Judge Randy Rosenbaum had them taken back to the jury rooms to wait for calm to return about a half-hour later.
Also testifying Tuesday was another of Tae Brown’s brothers, Kamrion Wilson, 21, who said that his younger brother had called him from inside the house to say that Williams was shooting at him.
The jury did not hear about Wilson’s activity the day after his brother’s death when he went to the Neil Street apartment where he believed Williams was staying.
Armed with a gun, Wilson knocked on the door, apparently intent on harming Williams.
A relative of Williams answered and now-retired Champaign police detective Dave Griffet stepped from behind the door and disarmed Wilson before anything bad happened. Griffet was at the apartment trying to learn where Williams was.
‘What’s plausible’Unknown to police and Wilson in that moment was that Williams had fled to Berrien County, Mich., where he was arrested a couple days after Mr. Brown’s death and charged.
Wilson was also charged with a weapons offense and sentenced to two years of probation under a first-time weapons offender program, intended to give him the chance to escape a conviction should he successfully complete his probation.
In her opening statement, Williams’ attorney, Public Defender Janie Miller-Jones, said her client would likely testify.
“This case is about Calvin Williams, his thoughts, his perceptions, his feelings. You have to determine what’s plausible, what’s believable,” Miller-Jones said.
The trial is expected to last all week.