Just before he was shot to death more than two years ago in West Humboldt Park, Tyrell Smith took out his phone and snapped a photo.
When Smith’s brother looked at the photos after the phone was returned to his family more than a year later, he saw a picture of a teenage boy that he didn’t recognize.
He showed the picture to Chicago police detectives — who now say it was of 19-year-old Jawaun Rogers. And last week, Rogers was formally indicted for playing a central role in Smith’s murder.
Rogers faces multiple murder charges in connection with the killing of Smith, 36, a concealed carry license holder, who was shot multiple times after stepping from his 2007 Maserati sports car during what authorities believe was an attempted robbery early Dec. 17, 2017 in the 4000 block of West Iowa Street.
Rogers was ordered held on $750,000 bail at an initial hearing last month at the Leighton Criminal Court Building and remains in custody at the Cook County Jail pending trial. He has pleaded not guilty to all five counts against him.
Earlier the night of the murder, prosecutors say, Rogers, then 17 and a documented member of the Mafia Insane Vice Lord street gang, slipped into the drivers seat of a white Nissan Altima that had been left running for a valet at the Flamingo Rum Club at 601 S. Wells St. in the South Loop.
Rogers, who was then 17, was wearing a distinctive Tommy Hilfiger jacket, and drove off with another person, prosecutors say.
Police POD cameras recorded the Altima driving around the area alongside a black Chevrolet Impala, and about an hour before Smith was killed, cameras recorded both cars as they pulled up to a 19-year-old man in the 4800 block of West Gladys Avenue on the West Side.
Passengers from the two vehicles were recorded getting out and approaching the 19-year-old and taking off again with his credit cards and ID, prosecutors said. The victim told police he didn’t get a good look at who robbed him.
Just before 2 a.m., Smith was driving to his garage when the Altima followed by the Impala pulled up behind him. Prosecutors said the Altima bumped Smith’s Maserati and then pulled around him and drove to the mouth of a nearby alley.
Smith, armed with a 9-mm handgun, got out of his sports car and was confronted by a group of people from inside the Impala and gunfire broke out. One person from the Impala fired at least six shots, prosecutors said. Smith returned fire, but was struck in the face and abdomen and died at the scene, his handgun found beside his body.
The robbers left the Maserati, but made off with Smith’s Balmain jacket and cellphone before both cars fled the scene. Prosecutors said the Altima was found 10 minutes after the murder, abandoned at Cicero Avenue and Division Street — a Tommy Hilfiger coat inside along with a pair of blue medical gloves. Smith’s cellphone was also found nearby.
The cellphone would sit in police custody for more than a year, unable to be accessed because it was protected by a passcode, prosecutors said. At the request of Smith’s family, the phone was returned in January 2019. After a few days, Smith’s brother was able to guess the password and looked through his most recently used apps, which hadn’t been opened since he was murdered.
After getting the photo from Smith’s brother, detectives got a break in the case when they were able to identify Rogers as the person in the photo, prosecutors said.
When Rogers was taken into custody, he initially denied knowledge of the crimes and told detectives the Tommy Hilfiger coat they had recovered wasn’t his. But, prosecutors said, when confronted by detectives that DNA samples collected from the coat and gloves inside the Altima matched Rogers and pictures on his Facebook page showed him wearing the coat, he acknowledged his role.
Prosecutors said Rogers admitted to stealing the Altima and told detectives that he had acted as a lookout for the shooting and had used the Altima to block the alley from traffic.
He said he couldn’t remember anyone who was in the cars with him, prosecutors said.
Rogers was taken into custody this past New Year’s Eve at his home after detectives learned he had moved and was living in west suburban Lisle, according to court records. At the time of his arrest, Rogers was on parole for 2018 juvenile charges of armed violence, unlawful use of a weapon and possession of a controlled substance, prosecutors said.
During Roger’s initial court hearing, Assistant Public Defender Marijane Placek said Rogers was living in Lisle because his family had moved to the suburbs in order to try and give him “a fresh start.”
Three members of Rogers’ family who attended that hearing declined to comment.
Members of Smith’s family declined to talk to the Sun-Times, citing the ongoing police investigation of the case.
Rogers is next scheduled to appear in court on the charges March 18.