The leaders of a violent street gang that controlled a six-block section of West Garfield Park were sentenced Thursday to life terms in prison.
Cornel Dawson, 44, leader of the Black Souls, sat beside his five co-defendants against the wall of a courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, smiling and whispering during much of the three-hour hearing.
If the suspects’ mannerisms were casual, it was understandable: five of the six were blood relatives, and life sentences for each were nearly a foregone conclusion from the moment they were found guilty on all counts following an 11-week trial.
The racketeering conviction, which included four murders committed by gang members, carried a life prison sentence, with additional sentences of up to life for each murder. The only question Friday was how many life terms would be stacked on each defendant.
Arguing for maximum sentences on every count of conviction, Assistant State’s Attorney Yvette Loizon pointed to the murder of a Black Souls member who was believed to have stolen drug money from his fellow gang members, and whose body was found buried in a shallow grave next to the abandoned house where he was beaten to death.
“They not only buried him in a hole, they buried him under garbage,” Loizon said. “That’s what they thought of human life.”
The case was the first courtroom test of the state-level racketeering charges adopted only a few months before some 20 Black Souls members were arrested five years ago.
Dawson was impassive as Judge Michael McHale read off his sentence: a total of five life sentences, and a consecutive sentence of 40 years for operating a criminal drug conspiracy. Dawson’s No. 2, Teron Odum, received three life terms, plus 40 years.
Other co-defendants received similarly stiff sentences, varying only by the number of murders jurors determined could be tied to each Black Soul member. Antwan Davis was sentenced to three life terms, plus 40 years; Ulysses Polk received three life terms plus 40 years; and Clifton Lemon Jr. received two life terms, plus 40 years.
Duavon Spears, the youngest member and the trigger man in the brazen murder of a man who had pressed battery charges against Odum, was sentenced to two life terms, plus 40 years. In a statement, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said the lengthy sentences would “send a strong message to the leaders of other violent gangs.”
Spears’ victim, Claude “Smokey” Snulligan, was shot two months after he turned down an offer from Dawson of $3,000 to drop his case.
Outside the courtroom, Snulligan’s mother, Sarie Campbell, said her son had moved into an apartment on the Black Souls’ turf and argued with gang members who used the porch and basement of the building to package and sell drugs.
Odum and another gang member beat Snulligan after he made repeated calls to police to try to get the gang off his block. Snulligan knew well that he had run afoul of a violent gang, Campbell said. But he continued to help police as an informant until he was shot in the back of the head by Spears in broad daylight, just a few blocks from a restaurant that was a hangout for the gang.
“He did what he had to do as a man, and I’m proud of him,” Campbell said after the sentencings. “(His daughter) couldn’t go outside to play because of (the gang members) … I think he’s a hero.”
The investigation that led to the gang members’ arrest s— Operation 40-Caliber — was named after the murder weapon used in the Snulligan shooting.
Odum’s lawyer, Lawrence Levin, said the case has numerous grounds for appeal, starting with a constitutional challenge on the state RICO law used to bring the charges and extending to the final hours of jury deliberations, which were marred by McHale’s dismissal of five jurors in quick succession.