A few weeks before making his first trip to prison, Shomari Legghette sketched a fairly happy portrait of his immediate family, circa 1999.
Legghette told a probation department investigator that he had lived with his grandmother in Bronzeville, a few blocks away from his father, a social worker for the state Department of Children and Family Services. His mother, a nurse for Chicago Public Schools, lived with his stepfather in Rogers Park. A younger brother was in college. None of his close relatives had a criminal record.
Legghette, who was about to start a 16-year sentence for armed robbery, was something of a black sheep.
According to court records reviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times, Legghette seemed to enjoy the support of his family as he accumulated a string of minor arrests and shorter stints in jail that preceded his armed robbery conviction. Until last week, when he was charged with the murder of Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer, the case was the most serious one he had faced.
Bauer was outspoken in his view that the criminal justice system in Cook County wasn’t doing enough to keep violent offenders off the street. Some critics of the system say Legghette is an example of that. But court records show Legghette, for the most part, received typical sentences for his crimes and had long completed a two-year prison term for selling a small amount of heroin when he was arrested for killing Bauer on Feb. 13.
Still, Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson was in Springfield on Tuesday to push for laws to ban extended magazines on firearms, like the 30-bullet magazine on the gun Legghette allegedly used to kill Bauer, and ban the sale of body armor, which Legghette was wearing when he was arrested.
Legghette was arrested outside the Thompson Center, where witnesses said he had struggled with Bauer before allegedly shooting the decorated police commander in a stairwell adjacent to the downtown office building. Police officers filled every seat and stood lining the walls of the courtroom for Legghette’s bond hearing earlier this month. It is not clear whether Legghette, who only glanced at the gallery, saw any loved ones in the courtroom as well.
The Chicago Sun-Times was unable to reach any of his relatives for comment as of Tuesday.
‘She wanted to see our son’
While he was serving his sentence for armed robbery, Legghette’s mother trekked to downstate prisons to visit him, a devotion that wound up carrying a heavy cost.
In 2003, Regina Legghette boarded an over-stuffed van ferrying people from Chicago to the state prison at Centralia. The unlicensed van, a 15-passenger model that was carrying 18 people, flipped on Interstate 57 near Danville, about halfway through the five-hour trip. Two children aboard the van died, and Regina Legghette and three other women were critically injured.
Regina Legghette’s husband, Shomari’s stepfather, said he’d had a bad feeling as he watched his wife climb into the van.
“(The van) was full . . . they were crowding; you had parents holding kids in their hands,” Lee Davis told a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. “It just didn’t seem right to me. But she wanted to see our son and I couldn’t say no.”
Legghette was released from prison in July 2005, according to state Department of Corrections records. His mother died a month later.
Bouncing among relatives
The armed robbery charges were the most significant ones Legghette faced in a criminal career that began with a 1994 gun arrest, when court records indicate he was living with his newly remarried mother and stepfather.
When he was arrested a few months later, for disorderly conduct, he listed his address as his maternal grandmother’s house.
A few months later, he was arrested for drug possession near his father’s house, where police said he had been soliciting drug buyers, according to court records. In a police report, officers said Legghette told them he had “just started his shift and (he) had just made one sale.”
Two years later, when he was arrested for drug possession, he listed his mother’s address in Rogers Park. In 1998, when he was arrested in the armed robbery case that sent him to prison for the first time, Legghette said he was living at his father’s house in Bronzeville, the same address listed in court records after his arrest for Bauer’s murder.
In court records, Legghette made it clear that he felt the armed robbery charges were overblown. He refused a plea deal and testified at trial, then lodged multiple attempts to appeal his guilty verdict. Prosecutors said Legghette participated in the robbery of a Park Forest couple that took place in the driveway of their home.
But Legghette painted himself at trial as a “third victim” of the crime, and claimed he had accepted a ride back to Chicago from the actual gunman, not knowing the man intended to commit a robbery on the way back to the city. Legghette said he knew his driver only by the nickname “Trouble,” and said he was “shocked” when he saw him pull a gun on the couple. Legghette said he only asked the woman for her cash because “Trouble” ordered him to do so, at gunpoint.
Legghette maintained that Trouble, identified elsewhere in court records as John Fowler, still had the gun as they sped away in Fowler’s car, and during a high-speed chase that spanned the Eisenhower Expy. and Interstate 294.
Legghette said Fowler threw the gun out the car window during the chase, though police said they could see Legghette toss the weapon. Legghette also denied talking to detectives, who said he confessed to the robbery, and even complained that he shouldn’t have been charged with armed robbery because the gun wasn’t loaded.
Legghette was found guilty at trial, and his 16-year sentence was twice as long as the one handed to Fowler, who had pleaded guilty.
In a second appeal attempt, Legghette filed a rambling petition in which he claimed he had been taken into police custody a week before he was officially arrested, and had been beaten by police. Legghette asked for some police records, but there is no indication the appeal proceeded any further.
Legghette’s conviction stuck and he remained in prison until 2005, then landed back in custody for violating his parole in 2007.
In that case, Legghette dodged significant jail time, despite being stopped by police with a chrome revolver, a bullet-proof vest, a baggie of heroin and $1,847 cash inside a mini van he was driving on the South Side.
As a convicted felon, Legghette faced felony charges for both having the gun and body armor. In a plea deal, prosecutors dropped those charges, and Legghette pleaded guilty to a count of possession of a firearm with a defaced serial number.
Legghette, who had faced a sentence of up to 30 years in prison, received a sentence of three years in prison. Having spent more than a year in jail before entering his guilty plea, Legghette spent only a few weeks in prison before he was released on probation, though he landed back in DOC custody for another four months after twice failing drug tests in 2010.
It is not clear from court records why Legghette — who was allegedly wearing a bullet-proof vest when he shot Bauer — was able to get such a relatively light sentence in the 2007 case. Dan Locallo, a former Cook County judge who reviewed the charges against Legghette at the request of the Sun-Times, said the plea deal was generous, but likely had an explanation.
“There could have been problems with evidence, problems with witnesses,” Locallo said.
“Still, given his background, there were signs that he did not want to be a solid citizen.”
The sentence was relatively light, given Legghette’s criminal record, but Legghette had already been held in jail for more than a year and had served prison time for the parole violation when the plea deal was struck.
‘Did he shoot the police?’
Legghette was still living with his father in Bronzeville when he was charged with battery of a 16-year-old girl near his father’s house on East 43rd Street in 2011. Legghette, who made a lewd comment and groped the girl, according to police reports, and he pleaded guilty and received probation.
His most recent conviction came in 2014, a low-level felony drug arrest that netted him a two-year prison sentence — about average for such a charge leveled against a repeat offender. Legghette had been released and completed his probation in August 2016.
The night Bauer was shot, a Sun-Times reporter went to the run-down row house and encountered a man who said he was Legghette’s father. News of a police commander being gunned down in the Loop dominated the airwaves that evening, though Legghette’s name had not been released to the public. The man quickly deduced why a reporter had arrived at his house.
“Did he shoot the police?” the man asked the reporter, who answered that police sources had named his son as the suspect.
The beleaguered father turned and walked inside his house.