PC Chambers murder no plea

Dangelis Chambers sits in a courtroom Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, at the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana during a hearing where he changed his mind about pleading guilty in the Dec. 30, 2018, fatal shooting of Renese Riley, 30, of Urbana.

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URBANA — An Urbana man who was prepared to enter a plea in a fatal-shooting case changed his mind Thursday afternoon to the apparent dismay of his attorneys.

The public defenders for Dangelis Chambers, 28, had arrived in court thinking their client was going to plead guilty to second-degree murder in the Dec. 30, 2018, death of Renese Riley, 30, for a 20-year prison sentence.

But as Judge Roger Webber began to explain to Chambers the rights he would give up by pleading guilty, Public Defender Janie Miller-Jones rose and told the judge that Chambers did not want to plead guilty.

Webber then asked Miller-Jones, Assistant Public Defender Matthew Ham and Assistant State’s Attorney Scott Larson if they could be ready for trial next week. All replied no.

Miller-Jones said there is still DNA evidence being analyzed at the state crime lab that could be helpful to Chambers’ defense.

Chambers then asked the judge if he could say something.

“As I have stressed to my attorney, I’m willing to go to trial without that DNA evidence, but she’s not willing to,” Chambers told Webber.

Miller-Jones reiterated to the judge that waiting for the DNA evidence was a tactical decision on her part because she believes it strengthens Chambers’ defense.

In late August, she filed a motion asking Webber to allow evidence of Mr. Riley’s “propensity for violence” to be admitted at trial.

In the motion, she stated that Chambers planned to argue at trial that he was defending himself when he shot Mr. Riley about 2:30 a.m. that Sunday outside an apartment complex in the 2000 block of Vawter Street in Urbana.

She alleged that Mr. Riley was screaming profanities outside the apartment and challenging Chambers to come out and fight.

“Eyewitness testimony will show that Renese Riley was the aggressor in the physical confrontation between Riley and the defendant and attacked the defendant without provocation,” she wrote.

She also said she would introduce other instances of Mr. Riley’s “aggressive and violent character” to support Chambers’ self-defense claim.

Those included allegations of domestic violence by Mr. Riley, an alleged threat about a week before his death to shoot up a woman’s apartment, and an alleged social-media posting by him on Nov. 13 in which he reportedly said “I got murda on my mind.”

Miller-Jones declined to comment Thursday after Chambers’ change of heart.

Larson indicated he was no longer willing to offer him a plea to a lesser offense and would proceed to trial on charges of first-degree murder and unlawful use of weapons. If convicted of first-degree murder, Chambers faces 45 to 85 years in prison and would have to serve 100 percent of his sentence.

Webber set a hearing on the motion for Nov. 12 and a jury trial for Dec. 16.

Mr. Riley’s death was the ninth fatal shooting of 2018 in Champaign and Urbana.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).