A reputed Chicago gang member pleaded guilty on the eve of trial to a charge of illegally carrying a handgun linked to the shootings of two children, including the high-profile slaying of 7-year-old Amari Brown on the Fourth of July 2015.
Demond Coffee, 26, pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon Monday, the day his bench trial had been scheduled to begin before U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo, court records show.
In his seven-page plea declaration, Coffee, an alleged member of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang, did not admit to having any knowledge of the violence tied to the blue steel semiautomatic pistol he was carrying at the time of his August 2015 arrest.
While preliminary sentencing guidelines call for about a year and a half in prison for Coffee, the plea declaration said prosecutors would likely argue other factors that “would substantially increase the sentencing range.” The charge carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.
The Chicago Tribune first wrote about the connection between Coffee’s gun and Amari’s shooting in a front page story in March 2016 after federal prosecutors used gun tracing information to argue that Coffee should remain locked up as a danger to the community while awaiting trial.
Prosecutors alleged at a detention hearing that in addition to Amari’s killing, the weapon had been used in another shooting just five weeks later that left a 15-year-old boy wounded.
While Coffee has not been accused in either shooting, prosecutors argued that because the crimes had taken place just weeks before Coffee’s arrest, it was very likely he had been in contact with those responsible.
Coffee’s attorney, Beau Brindley, did not immediately respond to a call for comment Tuesday.
Amari was shot and killed on July 4, 2015, just before midnight in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. The 7-year-old was outside a relative’s home watching fireworks with his father and others when shots rang out, fatally striking Amari in the chest and wounding a woman who was standing next to him.
The day after the shooting, then-Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy publicly chided Amari’s father, alleging that he had been the target and his gang ties were what led to his son’s slaying. The father had been arrested dozens of times and was also a reputed member of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang.
Rasheed Martin, 21, was charged with first-degree murder in Amari’s shooting in July 2015 and is being held without bail in Cook County Jail pending trial, records show. In April 2016, a second man, Jamal Joiner, was also charged in Amari’s killing, records show.
On Aug. 7, just over a week after Martin’s bond court appearance, the same Glock pistol used to kill Amari was used to shoot a 15-year-old boy in the Homan Square neighborhood on the West Side, authorities said. The victim was standing on the sidewalk when an occupant in a passing dark-colored sedan shot him in the abdomen, arm and hip, police said. A friend took him to Mount Sinai Hospital, where his condition was stabilized.
Court records show no one has been charged in that shooting.
Coffee was arrested Aug. 17, 2015, after officers responding to a call of a person with a gun approached him and another man as they stood near a West Side elementary school, according to the police arrest report.
The men ran in different directions, and during the chase, Coffee threw a gun into a yard on West Wilcox Street, according to the report. Police recovered the gun — which was loaded with 15 live rounds, including one in the chamber — as well as about $1,900 in cash that Coffee had on him, all in small bills. A drug-sniffing dog detected the “scent of narcotics” on the money, the report stated.
When police inventoried the Glock, a trace of the serial number revealed it had been reported stolen that April from Indianapolis, the arrest report stated.
Court records show Coffee has a long rap sheet, including weapons offenses, but no history of violent crimes. In 2011, he was convicted of unlawful use of a weapon and given probation, records show. That was followed by convictions for fleeing and eluding police and unlawfully possessing a handgun by a felon, netting him a sentence of three years in prison, authorities said.
Most recently, Coffee was charged in 2014 with marijuana possession in Berwyn, authorities said. He pleaded guilty earlier this year and was sentenced to time served.
Article Org: Chicagotribune.com