URBANA — A Champaign County jury took just under four hours Friday to convict a young man of the first-degree murder last summer of another man in a northwest Champaign neighborhood racked with violence.
Brandon Collier faces 45 years to life in prison for the shooting death of Terron Jackson, which a prosecutor said stemmed from a series of bad decisions. He is set to be sentenced Aug. 5.
The spectators in the courtroom showed no reaction when Judge Tom Difanis read the verdict. He had cautioned the many friends and relatives of both Mr. Jackson and Collier who had been watching the trial all week to take the news stoically or face ejection from the courthouse. Several court security officers stood by as the crowd dispersed following the verdict.
Security officers also escorted the jurors from the courthouse out doors not normally used by the public.
"Brandon Collier didn't set out to kill anybody that night and Terron Jackson didn't set out to put himself in harm's way. But that's what happened," First Assistant State's Attorney Steve Ziegler argued Friday morning. "It was unfortunate, stupid, should never have happened. But it did."
Ziegler, who prosecuted the case with Claire Sharples-Brooks, pulled together the evidence that seven men and five women had heard over three long days in Judge Tom Difanis' courtroom to argue that Collier, 22, of the 300 block of East Hill Street, Champaign, murdered Mr. Jackson, 30, on July 13, 2015.
Collier's attorney, Stephen Richards of Chicago, countered that the state's two star witnesses were "liars" whose statements did not add up to proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Richards rested his case after calling Collier's sister, April Collier, 23, who testified that she and a group of other women intended to confront Malik "Lil Mo" Chapple on Hedge Road that night about him having two girlfriends at the same time, one of whom was carrying his child.
Brandon Collier exercised his right not to testify.
April Collier said some time after 11 p.m., the women found Chapple and the pregnant woman sprayed him with Mace. After that happened, April Collier said, Chapple retreated into his cousin's house on Williamsburg to clean his eyes, then came back out ready to fight. She said she drove off for home.
Other witnesses had testified an upset Chapple came out, picked up a discarded box fan from the driveway, and either hit or threatened to hit April Collier's car with it. Those witnesses said April Collier declared she was going to get her brother, then proceeded around the corner from where the commotion had started to a house at 1526 Holly Hill Drive, where he was.
The ongoing commotion attracted a crowd.
"Terron Jackson is a curious young man. There's something going on. A yelling match, someone swinging a fan, all this drama. It was probably pretty interesting to see. Better for him if he'd stayed on Williamsburg," said Ziegler. "Up to now, it's all dumb and silly, even comical, but about to turn tragic."
The prosecutor laid out his theory that April Collier sought out her brother, who had been drinking, smoking cannabis and rapping with a gun out at the home of his friend Dashiona Fonville at 1526 Holly Hill. Fonville had told police he was there.
"He's armed, drinking, smoking — a bad combination, a little like dynamite. Somebody did light the fuse," he said, referring to the "charged" women.
At that time, Mr. Jackson and at least four women were walking up Garden Hills toward the commotion when shots were fired.
Mr. Jackson was mortally wounded from one that entered his back by his shoulder and tore through the artery supplying blood to his brain. Although he wasn't declared dead until two days later, Ziegler said he "was effectively dead when he hits the pavement."
Charnise Caraway, 23, was close to him and initially told police she didn't see the face of the shooter but came to court and testified it was Collier, whom she had known since middle school.
"She's had enough of this code of silence," said Ziegler, who said Collier was expecting Chapple and may have thought Caraway was him because of the similarity in their builds.
From inside her house at 1526 Holly Hill, Fonville said she heard April Collier's loud voice followed by shots. She looked out a bedroom window to see sparks from a gun and Collier running back across the street into her home.
Three spent shell casings were found near a tree across the street and a fourth in Fonville's living room. They all came from the same gun, which Ziegler said matched up with the likelihood that Collier's gun jammed as he was firing and the fourth casing was expelled in the house when he ran back in.
Fonville took the stand Wednesday and said she couldn't recall details she gave detectives in the weeks after the shooting, forcing prosecutors to play for the jury her entire recorded statement, which lasted nearly four hours.
"This is not a junior high game of 'don't tell the teacher.' This is the murder of a human being," Ziegler said.
"Did they (the detectives) attempt to make her feel the weight of that situation? Yes," he said, adding their "appeal to humanity" got Fonville to talk, not any coercion on their part.
But Richards countered that throughout the lengthy interview, Detective Andre Davis was "feeding her information and she's spitting it back."
Both Fonville and Caraway, he argued, were lying about what they saw, hammering at how dark the neighborhood was that night.
Garden Hills has no street lights and Richards and Ziegler stipulated for the jury that the moon was waning and was only 8 percent visible.
"If Dashiona Fonville saw sparks, a white shirt and Brandon running back (to her house) is that proof beyond a reasonable doubt? No. There's all sorts of shootings that take place in the neighborhood. Lots of people with white shirts are armed," Richards said.
The jury began deliberating about 11:15 a.m. Friday.