A Cook County jury on Thursday found Jerrell Dorsey guilty in the murder of 7-year-old Heaven Sutton.
In addition to first-degree murder, Dorsey was also convicted on aggravated battery of a firearm and aggravated discharge charges.
Dorsey was one of two gunmen who opened fire on rival gang members on a North Austin street on a hot June night in 2012, spraying bullets at their target and striking Heaven, who had been selling candy and snow cones at a makeshift concession stand her mother ran on the sidewalk in front of her house, prosecutors said.
Seated in the front row of the courtroom gallery was Sutton’s mother, Ashake Banks, who wore a Cubs jersey trimmed in pink, her daughter’s favorite color. Heaven’s name was stitched across the back of the shirt in pink letters over a pink number seven.
Banks and other family members let out sighs of relief when the jury read its guilty verdict after 2 1/2 hours of deliberations. Cries were heard from Dorsey’s supporters on the other side of the courtroom gallery.
“I had butterflies. I was scared,” Banks later told reporters in the courthouse lobby. “I prayed for seven years. I needed this justice.”
With Thursday also marking Banks’ late sister’s birthday, Banks said it was even more meaningful that justice arrived when it did.
Banks, smiling as she walked out of the courthouse, said she would head to the cemetery to visit her daughter’s grave and release balloons, which her daughter loved.
“I can finally let her rest now,” Banks said. “All three counts he’s been convicted of murdering my child.”
During closing arguments earlier Thursday, Banks moaned softly and shook her head as Assistant State’s Attorney Karin Swanson described the bullet’s path — through Heaven’s back, into her heart and lungs.
Over the course of four days of testimony, jurors heard from Banks and Heaven’s brother about the chaotic moments after two men emerged from a gangway and opened fire on bystanders enjoying a warm summer night on the 1700 block of North Luna Street.
Swanson played an excerpt of video of Dorsey’s interrogation and noted that Dorsey had admitted to being at the scene with fellow gang member Lance Sims. He admitted carrying a gun and following Sims into a gangway.
“The only thing he doesn’t admit is that he took that gun and shot that night,” Swanson said. “You see on that tape. (But) he didn’t want to take responsibility for that 7-year-old girl.”
Dorsey sat, impassive, beside his lawyer, Michael Walsh. In his closing arguments, Walsh pointed out there was no physical evidence tying Dorsey to the crime; police never found the murder weapon, and shell casings from two weapons had no fingerprints or DNA on them.
Walsh questioned whether eyewitnesses would have been able to see Dorsey on the street at night time or tell him apart from Sims, who never was charged in Sutton’s murder.
Prosecutors said that Dorsey and Sims were members of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang and had gone out the night Sutton was shot looking for their rivals in the Insane Mafia Vice Lords, who had shot at and wounded Sims weeks earlier.
The two gunmen had been targeting Antwan Monroe and his brother, Marquis, and managed to shoot Marquis in the leg. Antwan Monroe testified before a grand jury in the weeks after the shooting, but on the witness stand this week he recanted his identification of Dorsey as the shooter, as did another witness who had named Dorsey as the shooter.
Assistant State’s Attorney Nina Ricci attributed the men’s changing statements to guilt over the death of a young girl that morphed into fear of gang reprisal during the seven years it took for the case to go to trial.
“They should care. (Sutton) is dead because of them,” she said. “They don’t care now … they want to go out on the street and say, ‘We didn’t identify (Dorsey).'”