DECATUR - Elliott T. Murphy, the leader in the savage stomping attacks by a mob of nine teens that resulted in the death of one man and the near death of another, has been sentenced to 80 years in prison.
Murphy, 18, the last of six defendants to be sentenced, rose from his seat at the defense table, shackled at his hands and feet, and told Associate Macon County Judge Timothy Steadman that he and his brother were innocent.
"I apologize for my actions the last time I was in court here," said Murphy, referring to his outburst in court after the verdict was read Aug. 16, which led to a struggle with several officers and a jolt from a stun gun.
Murphy was sentenced Wednesday by Steadman to 55 years in prison for the murder of 61-year-old Jerry Newingham and 25 years for the attempted murder of Kevin S. Wilson, then 46, in attacks on Aug. 24, 2009, on the city's north side.
Murphy's half-brother, 16-year-old Deonta Johnson, was sentenced last week to 65 years in prison.
Assistant State's Attorney Tammy Wagoner, who recommended the maximum sentence of 90 years for Murphy, argued at the sentencing hearing that the most important factor in deciding on a sentence was the protection of the public.
"This case is one of those cases that truly scares the heck out of people," Wagoner said. "The average citizens can see themselves riding home from work on their bicycle or sitting out at a park. Those two victims were chosen for no other reason than they were there."
Community members were shocked when they first heard about the attacks by a group composed mostly of high school students. The first incident, the killing of Jerry Newingham, took place about 4 p.m. in the 500 block of West Sawyer Street, a residential area, just east of the Monroe Quick Stop, a store with plenty of customers on busy North Monroe Street.
The nine teens, all between 14 and 16 years old, then scurried off in several groups. They met up again about 70 minutes later at Garfield Park, where they stomped on Kevin Wilson's head and body "like he was a trampoline," according to an eyewitness.
None of the teens knew the victims. Their motive was first reported as a game of "point 'em out, knock 'em out." But testimony at the trial revealed that they were looking for people to rob. However, once they began kicking and stomping Newingham, they apparently forgot to rob him. A wallet was taken from Wilson.
Before pronouncing his sentence, Steadman said it is never easy to sentence a young person to prison, but he had to consider that Murphy was the leader of the attacks on not one, but two, victims.
"One lost his life, the other survived but will be scarred for life," Steadman said. "They were both senseless victims of random violence."
Steadman said he considered a previous robbery of a fellow student by Murphy, a crime recorded by a hall surveillance camera at MacArthur High School and screened at the sentencing hearing. He also considered the attack by Murphy on a fellow inmate at the Macon County Jail 17 days before his murder trial began, which resulted in the inmate losing his right eye. That victim testified Wednesday.
Branden White, a co-defendant in this murder case, was identified as the other man who worked with Murphy to rob the student in the hall, Jan. 26, 2009.
William Reed, Murphy's grandfather, was the only witness to testify for Murphy. He said he was surprised to hear that his grandson, the second of seven children of his daughter, was connected to these crimes.
"He's a good person," Reed said, adding that he helped with chores at home and take care of the younger children.
Under cross-examination, Reed said he had not heard about an incident that occurred in 2006, in which Murphy was arrested for throwing rocks at passing cars on Oakland Avenue.
Decatur police detective Brad Allen testified that when Murphy was interviewed after his arrest for that incident, shortly after his 13th birthday, he showed no remorse.
Harry Newingham, 58, younger brother of the murder victim, said he felt Murphy received a fitting sentence for the crimes he committed, but he would have preferred capital punishment.
He said he never heard any apology from any of the teens who took part in the murder of his brother, nor from anyone associated with them.
Newingham, who was sitting in the front row of the gallery, said he thought the apology Murphy gave the court "was a put-on." Murphy's short speech was emotional and barely intelligible.
"I don't think he has any remorse about anything," Newingham said.
Harry Newingham said Jerry was a good guy who would give anything he could to help anybody.
"He helped me a lot in my lifetime," he said, struggling with his emotions. "When I had hard times, he was right there for me."
Newingham, who has attended innumerable hearings and the seven-day trial of Murphy and Johnson, said he is glad the cases against the six defendants have come to an end. "But that's not going to bring my brother back, no matter how much time they got," he said.
He credited the prosecutors, Wagoner and Assistant State's Attorney Nichole Kroncke, with "doing a good job" and expressed appreciation for the police, who "did a good investigation."
"I'm glad they brought the guys to justice," he said.
Murphy's 55-year first-degree murder sentence must be served in its entirety; the 25-year sentence for attempted first-degree murder, a Class X felony, must be served at 85 percent or 21 years, three months. The sentences are to be served consecutively. With credit for time served in jail, Murphy will be eligible for parole in 74 years.
Branden White, 17, and Fredrick Rhone, 18, are serving 20-year sentences in the Department of Corrections for first-degree murder. Dedrick Rhone, Fredrick Rhone's twin brother, is serving a 15-year sentence for attempted murder. Malcolm Spence, 18, was sentenced to three years in prison for obstructing justice and mob action.
Kroncke, a prosecutor for the past 14 years, said she had never before worked any case similar to this one, in which defendants killed someone they did not know and did so in a public place "where anyone could see them."
"This sentence is necessary for the safety of the public," Kroncke said. "Hopefully, it will bring the victim's families closure. Justice was served."