DECATUR – Almost 12 years after Chaz Forrest was first arrested for shooting at another person, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison Thursday by Circuit Judge Thomas E. Griffith for killing one man during an incident in which he shot five people.
Forrest, who was originally charged with first-degree murder for killing 23-year-old Justin Redmon on July 24, 2011, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder as part of a plea deal.
This was the first time Forrest, who has been shooting at people with regularity for most of his adult life, was sent to prison for a gun crime.
He is currently serving a five-year sentence in the Illinois Department of Corrections for a 2012 cocaine dealing conviction. He was out on bond in that drug case when he shot five people about 2:45 a.m. near Jasper Park, Witt and William Streets, after an altercation at a local club.
Redmond died from several gunshot wounds to his torso. Jasper J. Milan, then 20, and Eric C. Jones, then 29, were both shot multiple times and initially listed in critical condition. Two other victims, both shot in their legs, were treated and released from local hospitals.
Forrest was initially charged with four counts each of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm, all Class X crimes, for those shootings. Those charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.
At the hearing, prosecutors asked the judge for a 25-year sentence. The defense recommended five years.
During his extensive criminal career, Forrest has been charged with felonies for shooting at people in four incidents from 2002 to 2008, including a 2004 attempted murder case in which a man was shot in the back. In a 2005 incident, he shot at three men while robbing them during a dice game and hit one in the head with a beer bottle.
Forrest, listed at 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, has been successful at intimidating witnesses in his prior cases.
That streak almost continued, but there was enough evidence to gain a conviction on a lesser charge in his latest case, including a handgun and ammunition found in Forrest's car shortly after the shooting.
Forrest will be eligible for parole in 2022.
Assistant Macon County State' Attorney Elizabeth Dobson said prosecutors had to settle for a second-degree murder sentence because the four surviving shooting victims “refused to participate in any way with the prosecution.”
“This allowed the defense to spin whatever story they wanted to, without us being able to refute it with eyewitness testimony,” Dobson said.
It is not unusual for witnesses to be intimidated, especially when defendants have a track record for committing violent crimes.
“I think it is a sad fact of life in Decatur, not only the number of shootings that take place, but also the number of cases where involved victims and witnesses don't care enough to help the prosecution,” Dobson said.