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No bail for man charged with killing University of Chicago graduate during alleged robbery

Judge Barbara Dawkins ordered Alton Spann, 18, held without bail on charges of murder and robbery Saturday.

A memorial for University of Chicago graduate Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng is set up at the 5400 block of S. Ellis Ave. in Hyde Park.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Bail was denied Saturday for a man accused of killing a University of Chicago graduate who Cook County prosecutors said was simply “minding his own business” before he was shot during the alleged robbery last week.

Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng was standing on a sidewalk Tuesday afternoon near the university’s Hyde Park campus when Alton Spann, 18, approached him with a gun and ordered Zheng to hand over his belongings, prosecutors said in court.

A struggle ensued and Zheng tried to run. That’s when Spann fired a single shot at the 24-year-old recent graduate, striking him in the chest, Assistant State’s Attorney Ashley Romito said.

Two passengers in a stolen black Ford Mustang Spann was driving before the robbery witnessed the shooting and a third person saw Spann with a gun when they looked out a window after hearing the gunfire, Romito said.

Spann returned to the Mustang after the shooting and sped off, Romito said.

A memorial for University of Chicago graduate Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng on Friday in the 5400 block of South Ellis Avenue in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
A memorial for University of Chicago graduate Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng on Friday in the 5400 block of South Ellis Avenue in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Zheng was given aid by a bystander before paramedics arrived and took him to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he died, Romito said.

Spann pawned a laptop and iPhone he took from Zheng for $100, according to Romito and Chicago police.

Surveillance cameras, license plate reading technology and GPS tracking of Spann’s cell phone all confirmed his travel around the time of the murder, Romito said.

Two loaded guns were found in Spann’s jacket when he was arrested Wednesday in the 1400 block of North Sedgwick, officials said.

Spann, who doesn’t have a permit to carry a gun, admitted the guns were his but denied involvement in the robbery and killing, Romito said.

Spann was on “parole” for a 2019 armed robbery and vehicular hijacking conviction when he was a juvenile and had an “extensive juvenile court history,” prosecutors said.

Spann was working full-time at Elite Staffing, but recently quit to pursue his high school diploma, an assistant public defender said.

Judge Barbara Dawkins ordered Spann held without bail on charges of first-degree murder and robbery.

Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng
Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng
University of Chicago

Zheng graduated from the University of Hong Kong in 2019 and got his master’s degree in statistics at the University of Chicago this past summer.

“He was motivated, independent, and intellectually curious,” said Mei Wang, director of the program Zheng studied in. “He aspired to be a data scientist who could solve important problems facing our society, and who could help people to help more people.”

The Chinese American Association at Greater Chicago started an online fundraiser for Zheng’s family, which had raised more than $66,000 as of Saturday evening.

Spann is due back in court Friday.