Joliet man pleads guilty to gun offense in connection with fatal shooting

Ben Rockett

A Joliet man who claimed to a detective that his “gun went off” in the fatal shooting of his girlfriend in 2021 has pleaded guilty to unlawfully possessing a revolver as a twice-convicted felon.

On Dec. 6, Ben Rockett, 71, pleaded guilty to the charge of armed habitual criminal. The charge was for Rockett possessing a .38-caliber revolver after he was convicted of a 2000 burglary and the 1991 second-degree murder of George Norris.

Rockett was sentenced to serve 85% of a 12-prison sentence and credited with 980 days served in jail. That would put his actual prison time closer to about 7 1/2 years.

The armed habitual criminal charge was filed against Rockett following an investigation of the March 31, 2021, fatal shooting of his girlfriend, Sonja “Trish” Underwood, 56, of Joliet. At the time, police were investigating her death as a homicide.

Rockett was not charged with any homicide-related offenses after his arrest. When asked why, Will County State’s Attorney spokeswoman Carole Cheney said the decision “was based on the totality of the circumstances.”

Rockett gave at least two interviews to two detectives about what happened March 31, 2021, according to Joliet police reports obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request.

In one interview, Rockett claimed he and Underwood were arguing before the shooting, and he accused her of striking him with a cane, according to police reports. At one point, Rockett retrieved a.38-caliber revolver.

“Ben advised that he fired one shot at Sonja and [struck] her in what he believes to be the head,” police reports said.

Rockett waited between 30 minutes to an hour before he called a relative to tell her of what happened, police reports said.

In another interview, Rockett claimed he and Underwood were tussling while he was holding the gun and the “gun went off,” police reports said.

Rockett claimed he did not call 911 because he “did not know how to use Sonja’s phone and his phone does not work because he has not paid the bill,” police reports said.

In 1991, Rockett was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder of Norris, but pleaded guilty to second-degree murder the following year, court records show.

At the time, prosecutors said the incident between Rockett and Norris occurred when Rockett asked for heroin at no charge, court records show. The two men argued over a $10 debt Norris apparently owed to Rockett, who then fatally stabbed Norris in the chest.

As part of his plea, Rockett acknowledged that he believed at the time that the circumstances would justify or exonerate the killing but “his belief was unreasonable,” court records show.