Seven years ago Ashake Banks held her 7-year-old daughter, Heaven Sutton, in her arms as she died from a gunshot wound to the back, a stray bullet fired in a gang dispute.
On Monday, with the frantic shouts of “Mommy! Mommy!” ever present in her mind, Banks sat in the front row of a Chicago courtroom hoping for justice on the first day of the jury trial of Jerrell Dorsey, the man charged in the death of her daughter.
In opening statements, prosecutor Nina Ricci said Dorsey was a member of a street gang who was shooting at a member of a rival gang on a hot July night in 2012.
“One of the shots hit their target,” Ricci said of a separate victim, a man who survived the shooting. “And another hit Heaven in the back as she ran for the safety of her own home.”
Heaven’s brother Malik Ellis, who was 15 at the time, was the first witness in the trial.
He told jurors that moments before the shooting — which happened about 10:45 p.m. — he’d walked his sister home from a friend’s backyard across the street because he and his pals were having a conversation about girls that was “inappropriate” for her young ears.
He left Heaven with their mom, who was hanging out near an open-sided tent in the family’s front yard in the 1700 block of North Luna Avenue. The tent housed a makeshift candy store the family operated during daylight hours.
Moments later, two men emerged from a gangway across the street and opened fire, according to prosecutors.
Dorsey, a member of the Mafia Insane Vice Lords, was one of the men, and his target was Marquise Monroe, a member of the 4 Corner Hustlers, prosecutors said.
“That night should have been one of those nights that fades from memory,” Ricci told jurors. “It’s not, and it never will be.”
Banks told the Sun-Times shortly after the shooting that she heard Heaven calling “Mommy! Mommy!” during the calamity.
“When she called my name, I knew she was scared,” she said. “I just couldn’t get to her. By the time I got there, she was just lifeless. She died in my arms.”
Defense attorney Michael Walsh on Monday urged jurors not to let sympathy for Banks and her family affect their judgment when it comes to deciding Dorsey’s fate.
“Obviously there’s a scourge in our city. . . . It’s a scourge of handgun violence, no one knows what to do about it,” Walsh said. “But, with that being said, this is about a trial of guilt or innocence. . . . It’s about the state meeting their burden of proof.”
Authorities believe they know who the other shooter was. He is in custody and facing a charge of attempted murder stemming from a separate case.
Also testifying Monday were Antwan Monroe — the brother of Marquise — and Wesley Davis.
Both men were on the block when the gunfire broke out and spoke with investigators in the days after the shooting. Testifying Monday, though, both men contended that some of the statements attributed to them in the investigation’s early days were not accurate. Often, both men said they couldn’t remember saying what police quoted them as stating.
Davis who testified for nearly two hours, appeared to contradict himself on a few occasions. He vehemently maintained that he never told police he saw Dorsey fire a gun, but later testified he was certain Dorsey was the shooter.
“I never told police once that I seen him shoot,” said Davis, who clearly grew frustrated over the course of his testimony, offering several terse answers to questions from the prosecution.
At one point, Davis, clad in a New York Yankees jacket, looked to Judge Ursula Walowski and asked her “how much longer” he’d be on the stand. Walowski asked him to “be patient, please.”
During cross-examination, Walsh pressed Davis, telling him that he was “just guessing” who the shooter was.
“I’m not guessing, I know it was him,” Davis responded. “I know. I just know, deep down in my heart.”