Guilty as charged
Brown faces 30 years for shooting
After more than four years in the Sangamon County jail, Oscar Brown is headed for prison.
A jury last Thursday convicted Brown in connection with the killing of Charles Rice, who was 38 when he was gunned down on Jan. 30, 2013. Brown, 39, had previously beaten a murder rap in Rice’s death after Sangamon County Associate Judge Rudolph Braud threw out the testimony of a state’s witness who testified nearly a year ago during the defendant’s trial on first-degree murder charges.
The witness in the first trial had said that she saw Richard Lawuary, an accomplice, jam his finger in a door at her home, which could have explained the presence of blood that was pertinent to the case. Braud ordered the jury to disregard the woman’s testimony on the grounds that the defense had not been notified about what she would say.
The jury in the first trial subsequently rejected the first-degree murder charge and convicted Brown of involuntary manslaughter. At the same time, the jury last year acquitted him of battery with a firearm, a charge that stemmed from the shooting of Richard Williams, who was wounded when Brown opened fire after Lawuary tapped the bumper of Rice’s car, which was parked near the intersection of South 19th and Kansas streets shortly after 3 a.m.
But Brown, despite favorable results in the first trial, was in a box. Charges of possession of a firearm by a felon and being an armed habitual criminal were still pending. And Brown, who claimed self defense in the first trial, had taken the stand and admitted that he’d fired a gun in the mistaken belief that Rice was armed. All prosecutors had to show was that Brown, who has prior convictions for second-degree murder and arson, had possessed a firearm.
Facing a sentence of six to 30 years on the pending gun charges, Brown asked for a new trial last spring, which would have given him a chance to make a new statement to a new jury, or make no statement at all, but Braud said no. Brown then dismissed James Elmore, his lawyer who was working as a public defender, and represented himself in last week’s trial. It did not go well for the defendant.
Reading from a transcript of the first trial, assistant state’s attorney Brian Shaw in opening statements read back the defendant’s prior sworn testimony, telling the jury that Brown himself had admitted possessing a Glock 9 mm pistol equipped with a 30-round magazine. The prosecutor hammered the point home during closing arguments, telling jurors that Brown had also said that he’d purchased the gun for $400 from a friend whose name he couldn’t recall. The transaction, according to Brown, took place in a driveway.
“The best evidence is this: a transcript,” Shaw said as he held the paperwork for the jury to see. “You hold it in your hands, you possess it. You buy it, you possess it.”
Brown’s testimony in the prior trial was buttressed by Joyel Hall, who told the jury last week that she watched from inside her home as the defendant kept pulling the trigger until the gun jammed. At least twice during cross examination by Brown, Hall repeated what she’d told the jury under direct examination by the prosecution: There was no doubt that she saw Brown firing a gun. In addition, Shannon White, who had been riding in a car with Brown, testified that he had retrieved a gun from the vehicle before gunfire erupted.
Brown countered by noting that no fingerprints were taken from the 19 shell casings scattered in front of a house on South 19th street where Rice died. He also urged the jury to rely on forensic evidence, not what people said. He maintained that he had said things that weren’t accurate out of fear.
“Word of mouth does not corroborate the facts,” Brown said during closing arguments. “Fear caused me to say things that weren’t true. But then I heard a voice. And that voice said ‘What are you afraid of?’”
The jury returned a verdict in 23 minutes. Sentencing is set for November.
“My expectation is, we’ll be going for the maximum sentence,” Shaw said as he left the courtroom.
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.