It was broad daylight, and there were bystanders and surveillance cameras everywhere in one of the busiest sections of Chicago as Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer chased Shomari Legghette through the Loop in February 2018. But the final seconds of Bauer’s life came on a stairwell just out of sight, and what happened in those moments may be the crux of Legghette’s defense as he stands trial for murder.
In opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors alleged that Legghette “executed” the 31-year Chicago Police Department veteran as he tried to escape arrest when other officers tried to stop the four-time convicted felon — who was armed with a 9-millimeter pistol and a bulletproof vest— after spotting Legghette on Lower Wacker Drive. Bauer wore his uniform under his coat, and his police radio was on “full-blast” as he ran after Legghette near the Thompson Center, Assistant State’s Attorney Rise Lanier told jurors.
“[Legghette] knew. He knew Paul Bauer was a police officer,” the prosecutor said. “He knew he was a police officer trying to arrest him. And he killed him for it.”
Addressing jurors in front of a courtroom gallery packed with uniformed police officers, Legghette’s attorney, Scott Kamin, described the life-and-death struggle his client faced — though Legghette didn’t know Bauer was a cop.
A “street hustler,” Legghette was an occasional drug dealer who carried a gun and wore body armor for protection. Legghette had wandered down to Lower Wacker looking for a port-o-potty when police on a tactical unit called out to him. Legghette said “I’m good” and “jogged” up the stairs, unaware he was being followed, much less chased, Kamin said.
Bauer appeared to Legghette as just a “man in blue coat” who was following Legghette through the Loop and threw him in a chokehold as Legghette ran for a staircase outside the Thompson Center.
“It was a tragedy, but Cmdr. Bauer brought it on himself,” Kamin told jurors. “He had no signs that indicated he was a cop ... What Mr. Legghette did in firing on this guy ... was entirely reasonable.”
RIGHT NOW: Opening statements begin today in the trial of a man accused of killing Chicago Police Commander Paul Bauer. https://abc7.ws/2ThwTv1Posted by ABC 7 Chicago on Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Kamin, who has sought to use Bauer’s disciplinary files to buttress Legghette’s defense, said Bauer was overly “aggressive.”
“(Bauer) ignored the fact that the supposed crime was attempting to urinate, or urinating,” Kamin said. “He didn’t know how minor this was. It was nothing. He just ran and he forgot he wasn’t dressed as a police officer.”
Legghette is expected to take the stand to describe the struggle that took place after he and Bauer tumbled down to a stairwell. Bauer, 53, was shot six times, and Legghette’s case for self-defense seems as if it will hinge on whether jurors believe he had no idea Bauer was a cop.
The trial, which is expected to last around two weeks at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, opens just over two years after Bauer was killed. Tuesday, prosecutors called four bystanders who, while walking to meetings or taking a midday break, witnessed Bauer chasing Legghette and disappearing into a stairwell near the Thompson Center. Each saw the two men struggling near the top of the staircase, then disappear down the steps.
Gunshots rang out seconds later, and only Legghette emerged and was quickly grabbed by waiting State Police working in the nearby building and a Chicago Police officer.
As he headed to a Walgreen’s, marketing executive William Dvorak saw Bauer chasing Legghette across Clark Street and watched as the two men struggled at the top of the staircase, with Bauer putting Legghette into a headlock before the pair disappeared down the stairs. Thompson Center worker Vanessa Bowens was taking a smoke break when she heard shouting.
“I saw a black guy and white, and the white guy had the black guy’s arm, and tried to keep him from running away, and the black guy was yelling ‘Let me go!’’ Bowens recalled. Legghette yanked his arm so hard, “he and the other guy went rolling down the stairs.”
Attorney Scott Verhey saw the two men fall down the staircase as Verhey walked to a hearing, and walked over to help before he heard gunshots a second later.
“To hear that was completely a shock to my system,” Verhey said. “But I’m guessing five shots. It was a very quick burst of five shots.”
Bauer was shot six times, and seven shell casings were found at the scene. Fire Department paramedic Julio Mendoza testified that he found Bauer laying at the bottom of the stairs. Prosecutors introduced a photo of the scene showing a pool of blood ringed by yellow evidence markers, denoting the location of shell casings.