After about five hours of deliberation Wednesday, a Lake County jury returned guilty verdicts for all charges against Jim McPherson in the high-profile Janay McFarlane murder case.
McPherson, 22, of North Chicago, faces 45 years to life in prison for the first-degree murder and firearm enhancement convictions.
McFarlane, 18, of Chicago, was in North Chicago visiting friends when she was shot shortly after 11:20 p.m. on Feb. 15, 2013 while walking with two friends in an alley behind the 1300 block of Jackson Street. That date coincided with a visit by President Barack Obama to Chicago to discuss gun violence, and McFarlane’s 14-year-old sister was sitting near the president at the event.
Following days of testimony from more than 20 witnesses in the case, prosecutors told the jury in closing arguments they had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that McPherson fatally wounded McFarlane while attempting to shoot at a rival gang member.
Defense attorney James Schwarzbach countered that the state had not met its burden of proof identifying McPherson as the killer and should find him not guilty so police can reopen the investigation to find the “real shooter.”
Assistant state’s attorneys Ari Fisz and Jason Grindel said one of the men McFarlane was walking with at the time was considered a rival gang member by McPherson. The prosecution’s case alleges that McPherson saw the group in a liquor store minutes before and then ambushed them in the alley, about a block away.
Fisz said a previous verbal confrontation between McPherson, of North Chicago, and the man walking with McFarlane was motive enough to spark the shooting.
“In the ridiculous culture this defendant lives in, that’s motive enough to kill someone,” Fisz told the jury, adding that five shots were fired.
Fisz said the last image McFarlane’s father had of his daughter was a cell phone shot taken by a police officer that showed her lying in the alley with a bullet wound to the head.
Fisz also went over videotape evidence showing McPherson in the liquor store at the same time as McFarlane and her friends, as well as film from another store that police and prosecutors said shows McPherson’s brother’s car entering the alley less than two minutes before the shooting.
McPherson’s brother refused to testify at the trial, but police said he allegedly dropped McPherson off at the alley just prior to the murder.
A state police forensics expert testified during the trial that gunshot residue was found on samples taken from McPherson’s right hand.
Police gang experts also testified that McPherson is a member of the Gangster Disciples, a claim that Schwarzbach conceded is true, although he denied it was a factor in the case.
Papers outlining the gang’s policies and structures were found in McPherson’s bedroom, along with handwritten drawings of gang emblems, authorities said.
“This is what he is, a Gangster Disciple, and that’s why Janay is dead,” Fisz said.
Schwarzbach said the state failed in its most important objective: to provide a positive identification of McPherson as the murderer.
He said an eyewitness who claims to have seen him shooting the gun acknowledged that he did not see his face, and that his appearance in a liquor store near the scene is not enough to convict McPherson of murder.
Schwarzbach also argued that gunshot residue is not conclusive proof, because it can be transferred in ways other than the discharge of a gun.
He also suggested a grudge over a girl between one of McPherson’s friends and one of the men McFarlane was walking with may have led to the murder, without McPherson’s direct involvement.
“The state is trying to sell you a conviction based on no identification evidence,” Schwarzbach told the jury, adding that prosecutors also had no confession, no DNA evidence and no murder weapon.
“They are saying this kid was in a store, therefore he was in the kill zone. This kid was in a car, therefore he was in a kill zone,” Schwarzbach said to the jury. “This case is high stakes. You have the responsibility to seek justice, but not to convict an innocent man.”
Source: Lake County News Sun