DECATUR — A jury began hearing evidence Monday in Macon County Circuit Court to decide whether Charles L. Fitzpatrick tried to murder a Decatur motorist after a chance encounter on a city street.
Fitzpatrick, 26, who is being held without bond, has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm in the incident, which happened the evening of Oct. 16. Rafael Graham, then age 70, was hit by three of four bullets fired at him, and prosecutors say he came close to death and has endured a long and painful recovery.
But the vital question is the shooter’s identity, according to defense attorney Scott Rueter, who is defending Fitzpatrick. Rueter told the jury that nobody disputes Graham was shot multiple times as he sat in the driver’s seat of his BMW car near North Monroe and West Center streets.
“But the issue, quite frankly, is who did it?” Rueter asked the jury. He went on to assert that eyewitness testimony, including that of Graham, was unreliable. He said Graham’s judgment may have been clouded by family members who showed him a picture of Fitzpatrick as he was recovering and skewed his viewpoint.
Rueter also pointed out police have not found the weapon used and there was no DNA evidence implicating Fitzpatrick.
“It is our contention that at the close of this case the only verdicts you will be able to return will be ones of not guilty,” he told the jury.
But Macon County Assistant State’s Attorney Nichole Kroncke earlier painted a very different picture of the evidence. She said eyewitness testimony naming Fitzpatrick as the shooter was solid, and cellphone tracking evidence also placed him close to the shooting scene.
She had portrayed Fitzpatrick as a cold-blooded shooter who had been among a group of men meandering across the road and blocking Graham’s vehicle as he drove home. The door mirror on the car was broken off during the encounter, and Kroncke said Fitzpatrick had leaned in through the stopped car’s passenger window and accused Graham of colliding with him.
She said Graham apologized and said he would call 911. She then quoted Fitzpatrick as telling him: “Call them if you want, but you (expletive) up and you are going to pay…’ At that point Rafael hears boom, boom, boom, boom — four shots — in rapid succession,” said Kroncke.
One bullet passed through an elbow, but two others hit Graham, lacerating his liver. Those slugs remain there, Kroncke told the jury, because it could kill Graham if surgeons tried to remove them.
“This is a case about a random act of violence that was perpetrated against an innocent 70-year-old man,” Kroncke said. “... The evidence will be clear that Rafael suffered not only great bodily harm, but he is very lucky to be alive today.”
The trial continues at 9 a.m. today in the Macon County Courthouse, and Graham is expected to testify.