CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago man accused of killing a 6-month-old girl in a shooting that also wounded her father was seeking revenge for the theft of a video game console, authorities said Monday.
Koman Willis was charged with first-degree murder Monday in the death of the infant, Jonylah Watkins, who was shot on March 11 while sitting in her father’s lap in a minivan. The baby’s father, Jonathan Watkins, was seriously wounded in the attack, and police say he was the intended target.
The shooting, which took place in the middle of the day in the Woodlawn neighborhood on the city’s South Side, was one of several earlier this year that brought attention to the gang violence in Chicago.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told reporters the suspect is a documented gang member with 38 previous arrests and was acting in response to a burglary at his mother’s home.
“He knew Jonylah’s father, Jonathan, and shot him in retaliation for a stolen video game system,” McCarthy said. “Jonylah was obviously not the intended target of this assault.”
Willis is also charged with aggravated battery with a firearm, said Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. A bond hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. If found guilty, Willis could be sentenced to life in prison. Illinois does not have the death penalty.
Chicago police devoted a large amount of resources to the case. Willis had long been a suspect, McCarthy said, but “the question was whether or not we could show it in a court of law.”
Lt. Kevin Duffin, who led the investigation, told reporters that detectives found key witnesses last week.
Willis surrendered to police Saturday, McCarthy said. Police and the state’s attorney’s office could not immediately provide information about the man’s attorney.
In March, McCarthy had said Watkins, who also has an extensive criminal history, was cooperating with the investigation but that there was “a lot more” help he could provide.
At the girl’s funeral, several people lamented the “code of silence” that keeps some residents from reporting crimes, cooperating with authorities or even fingering members of rival gangs who have targeted them.
Religious leaders speaking at the funeral service implored those in attendance to transform gang-riven neighborhoods.
The shooting came just weeks after the slaying of Hadiyah Pendelton, a 15-year-old drum majorette who was shot a mile from President Barack Obama’s home just days after she performed at the president’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. Police believe she was gunned down in a case of mistaken identity.
Pendleton’s death was one of more than 40 homicides in Chicago in January, a total that made it the deadliest January in the city in more than a decade. Last year, homicides in Chicago topped 500 for the first time since 2008.
However, homicides are down since then. Chicago had 109 homicides this year as of May 12, according to the latest Police Department crime statistics. That’s a 39 percent drop compared with the same period last year.