DECATUR - Malcolm S. Spence, 18, one of six defendants who were charged with first-degree murder in the beating death of 61-year-old Jerry Newingham, pleaded guilty to lesser charges of mob action and obstruction of justice and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Spence, the fourth defendant to plead guilty in the case, was originally placed at the murder scene by witnesses, but those accounts were not verified by investigators.

He has cooperated with prosecutors and must testify at the upcoming trial of the two main defendants as part of his plea agreement.

The agreement was accepted by Associate Judge Timothy Steadman in Macon County Circuit Court on Thursday afternoon.

The trial of the main defendants, Elliott Murphy, 18, and Deonta Johnson, 15, is slated to begin Aug. 8.

They are charged with the murder of Newingham on Aug. 24, 2009, and mob action for severely beating 46-year-old Kevin S. Wilson one hour later. Wilson, who was rendered unconscious and severely injured, recovered from his injuries.

Assistant Macon County State's Attorney Tammara Wagoner told the court that Spence agreed to testify in a manner consistent with what he told Decatur police Detective Barry Hitchens during a taped interview on June 28, 2010.

Wagoner said Spence was with the other five defendants, including Murphy and Johnson, when they severely beat Wilson.

"This defendant participated in kicking Mr. Wilson while he was on the ground," Wagoner said.

Spence told the detective one year ago that the other five defendants admitted to him that they stomped Newingham to death.

During an earlier interview, on Sept. 2, 2009, Spence told Hitchens he did not know anything about the attacks on Newingham and Wilson. That is the basis of the charge of obstructing justice.

Spence, who has been held in the Macon County Jail since his arrest almost 22 months ago, appeared at the hearing dressed in jail coveralls. Before he was called to testify, Steadman ordered his leg shackles removed.

Wagoner asked him if the information he gave to Hitchens during his June 2010 interview was true and remains true until this day.

"It's the truth and it is still the truth," Spence said.

Wagoner said Spence, who was 16 years old at the time of his arrest, had a prior juvenile adjudication for home invasion, for which he was placed on supervision.

Spence is being transferred to the Illinois Department of Corrections. Because of credit for time served in jail, Spence is expected to be released from prison in 60 days if he complies with terms of his agreement.

One other defendant in the case is in prison, while two are awaiting sentencing.

Branden J. White, 17, is serving a 20-year prison sentence, at 100 percent, after pleading guilty to first-degree murder in April.

Fredrick Rhone, 17, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and his twin brother, Dedrick, 17, pleaded guilty to attempted murder, during a plea hearing on Thursday, June 23. Their sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 21.

Johnson and Murphy are charged with beginning and ending the fatal attack on Newingham.

It is alleged that Murphy repeatedly stomped on Newingham's head, after Johnson punched him, knocking him off his bicycle. The unprovoked attacks on random people had been discussed earlier by the teens as a game called "point ‘em out, knock ‘em out."

Murphy was 16 years old at the time of the attack; Johnson was 14. All the defendants in the case were students at MacArthur High School, except for Johnson.

Newingham was killed on the 500 block of Sawyer Street, a few blocks south of Decatur Memorial Hospital. The teens dispersed after leaving Newingham on the ground, unresponsive. They regrouped a short time later, before attacking Wilson in Garfield Park as he sat in the pavilion.

Shortly after the attack, Newingham was placed on life support at the hospital, where he died 11 days later.

hfreeman@herald-review.com|421-6985