Jury finds Washington guilty in 2009 shooting

SYCAMORE – It took a jury about an hour Wednesday to convict Brandon Washington of shooting a DeKalb man in the face.

Washington, 21, of Aurora, sat placidly as the court clerk read back verdicts of guilty on charges of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated battery with a firearm and armed violence.

He turned and smiled at supporters in the courtroom as deputies handcuffed him for his return to the county jail to await sentencing.

On Monday, Jason Johnson of DeKalb testified that in the early morning hours of May 23, 2009, Washington approached him in a parking lot in the 900 block of Greenbrier Road in DeKalb and shot him at point-blank range.

He later identified Washington in a photo lineup from his hospital bed at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford.

During the three-day trial, prosecutors called Johnson, a man who said he witnessed the gunfire, and the emergency room doctor who treated Johnson before sending him to Rockford for surgery to remove bullet fragments from his jaw.

They also called the mother of Washington's daughter and her aunt, both of whom testified that they saw Washington on the afternoon of May 23, when he was acting "jumpy" and told them he had shot someone and might have killed that person.

The defense called Washington's mother, Sophia Thomas of Rochelle, to the stand Wednesday. Thomas testified that she was also present when Washington saw his child's mother, Jessica Contreras. Contreras's aunt, Martha Contreras, testified that Thomas had left the room briefly when Washington mentioned the shooting, but Thomas said she was present the entire time he was. She also said he was not acting jumpy and never said anything about shooting anybody or about police looking for him.

Circuit Judge Robbin Stuckert allowed Thomas's testimony over the objection of prosecutor Phil Montgomery, who said that she was not on the list of planned witnesses and had been present in the courtroom during the first day of the trial.

At the beginning of the trial, Stuckert had allowed a motion to exclude witnesses, which means no one slated to testify is supposed to be present for any other part of the proceedings. Thomas was present for both opening statements and Johnson's testimony.

Defense attorney Robert Nolan said he had not originally planned to call Thomas, but her testimony was important to contradict the testimony of the Contreras witnesses.

In his closing argument, Nolan cast doubt on how certain the victim and eyewitness could be about the shooter's identity, since both had admitted to drinking that night and the parking lot may have been dimly lit. He also pointed out that prosecutors had failed to produce a gun.

In a rebuttal, Montgomery pointed out there were five days between the shooting and the time Washington was arrested in Aurora while trying to flee police, plenty of time for him to dispose of the gun. Of all the witnesses who testified, the only one with a motive to lie, he said, was Washington's mother.

Thomas declined to comment after the verdict.

Washington, who did not testify in his own defense, is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 9.