A man accused of setting a deadly fire more than 17 years ago at a Near West Side liquor store stood in court Tuesday to face a charge of first-degree murder more than four years after a warrant was issued for his arrest in the case.
Lemanuel Jackson, 46, appeared at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse for a bail hearing dressed in a sweater and beige pants. He declared himself a sovereign citizen — a group that believes that although they live in the United States they are separate from the government’s authority — and asked to be allowed represent himself, despite Judge Michael Clancy’s advice against doing so.
“I’m a free sovereign,” Jackson said in his only statement. “I don’t consent to these proceedings.”
Clancy ordered Jackson held without bail and he was led away.
About 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 25, 2000, Jackson and Eric Brocks walked into the former Mike and Sons Food and Liquor store at 1359 W. Roosevelt Road, poured a container of gasoline on the floor and set the fuel on fire, Assistant State’s Attorney Matthew Thrun said at the hearing.
The “wall of fire” blocked the entrance and exit to the store, which was filled with customers at the time, Thrun said. Two cashiers — 37-year-old Annie Reed and Hatari Smith, 25 — were trapped in a small office on the second floor and died of carbon monoxide poisoning from smoke in the blaze.
The site of the fire remains an empty lot in the University Village neighborhood.
Thrun said that Jackson and Brocks ran from the store after setting the fire, got into a vehicle driven by Johnnie Sims and drove off. The getaway vehicle was owned by Jackson before he transferred the title to a girlfriend.
Six years later, investigators were told by an informant that the getaway driver was Sims and that Jackson and Brocks set the fire, Thurn said. Witnesses also told investigators they overheard Brocks talking with Jackson about the fire. One, a fellow member of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang, told authorities that Jackson had tried to recruit him for help a few months before the arson, which was set in order to collect insurance money.
Sims, of Aurora, Colorado, was the first man to be charged with murder in the case and was denied bail at a March 2010 hearing, according to court records. Brocks was charged with murder four months later.
At Brock’s bail hearing, prosecutors said he had confided in a friend about his role in the fire, the Chicago Sun-Times previously reported. That friend told authorities in Wisconsin that he could provide information about the case when he was arrested on unrelated charges.
Sims cooperated with authorities, pleaded guilty to aggravated arson and testified against Brock, Thrun said. He was sentenced to eight years in prison, court records show. Brocks was convicted of first-degree murder in December 2013 and sentenced to life in prison.
Brocks, now 35, is serving his sentence at the Mendard Correction Center, according to Illinois Department of Corrections records.
A warrant was issued for Jackson’s arrest on Nov. 25, 2013, shortly before Brock’s trial began, Thrun said. Since then, he has lived as a fugitive.
Jackson was picked up on Monday by Chicago Police at the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana after he was taken into custody in Merrillville, Indiana on the warrant, according to authorities. His arrest report listed his home address in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Jackson’s next court date was scheduled for Monday.