DECATUR – After deliberating for almost five hours, a jury of six men and six women found Stephen D. Smith, 28, of Decatur guilty of attempted first-degree murder and two other related felony charges.
Smith, who reportedly expected to be acquitted, snapped his head downward when he heard the verdict, read aloud by Macon County Circuit Judge R. C. Bollinger at 3:25 p.m. Thursday. Smith sat at the defense table beside Assistant Public Defender Scott Rueter, dressed in a black sweater, blue jeans and new tan work boots.
After the jurors were dismissed from the courtroom, three women sobbed and wailed in response to the verdict. One of Smith's female relatives tried to push her way past a correctional officer to leave the courtroom against the judge's order, which was for spectators to stay inside until jurors reached their vehicles. She was gently restrained until the courtroom received the report of the jurors' safe passage.
Smith will be sentenced by Bollinger to serve a minimum of 31 years in prison at a hearing scheduled for May 11. He will be held without bond until he is remanded to the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections.
The Class X guidelines for attempted first-degree murder are six to 30 years in prison, plus 25 years to life for an enhancement for personally discharging a firearm. The sentence will be served at a minimum of 85 percent.
The additional charges of aggravated battery with a firearm causing great bodily harm, and aggravated discharge of a firearm, will not contribute to additional prison time for the defendant, because Smith was convicted of the primary charge.
Smith shot a 30-year-old truck driver at about noon on July 28, in the south alley behind Smith's residence in the 2000 block of East William Street.
The shooting victim testified that he went to meet Smith to resolve a dispute, arising from Smith staying overnight at his ex-wife's house, while the victim's two young children also resided there.
The victim testified that his 4-year-old daughter told him Smith had been in bed with her and and her mother. The victim said he discussed the matter with Smith, but Smith would not agree to stay away from his children.
Smith did not testify at his trial.
In her closing argument, Assistant Macon County State's Attorney Lindsey Shelton said Smith tried to kill the victim by shooting a bullet, which entered his chest.
“It was an 'I-want-to-kill-you shot,'” Shelton told the jurors Thursday morning. “He kept shooting until he emptied the entire magazine.”
She said everything the victim said during his testimony was corroborated by other evidence, including testimony by his ex-wife, cellphone evidence and the exact location where the spent shell casings were found by officers in the alley.
Rueter passionately, loudly argued that Smith was not the shooter.
He said the victim was uncertain of which face to pick out of a photo lineup while he was in the hospital shortly after the shooting. Rueter said the victim was looking to pick Smith's face out of the photo lineup, “not the person who actually shot him.”
“I don't know who shot him,” Rueter said. “I really don't care.”
Shelton argued that the victim did not have his glasses with him at the hospital, he was wincing in pain, he was drugged by morphine and upset because he didn't know what Smith, who was still at large, might do to his children. Despite his uncertainty, he did finger Smith.
“It's only reasonable he was only 50 percent sure,” Shelton said. “He's never wavered from saying who shot him.”
Rueter also argued that the victim might not have been shot at all. He might have been injured by a piece of metal when he jumped over the fence as he ran from the scene.
A doctor had testified that the victim still had a bullet lodged in his chest wall, which doctors decided to leave inside his body for medical reasons.
Shelton said Smith brought a gun to a fistfight. The two men did not like each other, and the victim was not going to give up on the idea of preventing Smith from spending time around his children.
“He was going to make things simple and just get rid of him,” Shelton said.
Shelton said there was much more substantial evidence that pointed to Smith as the one who shot the victim.
In response to Rueter's assertion that cellphone evidence showed that Smith was innocent, because he was receiving and making calls before and after the shooting, Shelton said the evidence showed the opposite was true. From 12:01 to 12:04 p.m. Smith was apparently not talking on his phone.
“You've got three minutes of time for (the victim) to pull up, and say, 'Are we going to do this?,' park and get out of his car and have the defendant empty his clip,” Shelton said.
Smith has four other prior felony convictions and has served three terms in prison: he was sentenced to six years in 2006 in a narcotics case; four years in 2009 for a felon possessing a weapon; and four years in 2011 for attempted unlawful use of a weapon, all in Macon County cases.
In January 2016, he was convicted of being an armed habitual criminal in a Cook County case, for which he was sentenced to 30 days in jail, according to a court document.