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17-year-old pleads not guilty to murder in toddler's shooting death

17-year-old pleads not guilty to murder in toddler's shooting death


DECATUR — Zachary M. Pherigo, 17, pleaded not guilty in Macon County Circuit Court on Wednesday to the charge he murdered his 2-year-old nephew, Justin Lee Murphy Jr.

Pherigo also pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated battery with a firearm, aggravated discharge of a firearm and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon in the Oct. 16 shooting.  

Macon County State's Attorney Jay Scott said last week that Pherigo is being treated as an adult because the law covering juveniles does not allow first-degree murder charges to be filed against someone who is 17.

Dressed in a gray shirt and light-colored pants, Pherigo was accompanied Wednesday by attorney David Ellison. He told Judge Phoebe Bowers that he wished to waive his right to a preliminary hearing. Bowers set a pre-trial hearing date of Nov. 17.  

The 2-year-old was shot in the torso at 8:40 a.m. Oct. 16 in the 1400 block of East Wellington Way, Macon County Coroner Michael E. Day said. He was later pronounced dead in the emergency room of Decatur Memorial Hospital. 

Pherigo, the toddler's uncle, told police that he was babysitting the boy and they went outside to play "cops and robbers," according to a sworn affidavit by a Decatur police officer.  

Pherigo was holding a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun he told police he had found a day earlier near a dumpster in the 3700 block of North Woodford Street, the statement said. Pherigo said he pointed the gun at Justin's side and told him not to move, then pulled the trigger. He told police that he did not realize the gun was loaded. 

Pherigo told police he picked up his nephew and carried him inside, using a blanket to try to stop the bleeding. He then retrieved the gun, put the spent shell casing in his pocket and placed the weapon in a cabinet above the refrigerator, he told police. 

Murder is a Class M felony, the most serious, with a potential sentence of 20 to 60 years, plus a 25-year enhancement for use of a firearm, if convicted. Aggravated battery with a firearm is a Class X felony, aggravated discharge of a firearm is a Class 1 felony and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon is a Class 4 felony.

Pherigo is being held in the Peoria County Juvenile Detention Center following his arrest by Decatur police. 


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