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Jamie Spates

Other Winnebago County Exonerations
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On October 5, 2017, 27-year-old Isaiah Starks got into an argument with Marcus Spates, as Spates was parked in his SUV outside Starks’s house in Rockford, Illinois. They were soon joined by 41-year-old Jamie Spates, who lived across the street from Starks on the same block.

The argument between Starks and Marcus Spates turned violent, and the men began fighting in the street. Then, at least two shots rang out. Marcus Spates was hit in the leg. Starks was shot in the abdomen and later died. Jamie Spates called 911, telling the dispatcher that he thought he shot somebody and asking where he should turn himself in.

Jamie Spates was arrested that day and later indicted for first-degree murder, second-degree murder, felony murder, and mob action. In an interview with officers with the Rockford Police Department, Jamie Spates said that Marcus was already talking with Starks when Jamie came out of his house. In the interview, which was videotaped, Spates also noted his attire the day of the shooting: blue shorts, white socks, and a white T-shirt.

Spates’s jury trial in Winnebago County Circuit Court began on March 27, 2018. He was represented by Eldon Granger II.

Granger said in his opening statement that Jamie Spates was not initially involved while his brother and Starks fought. “A shot goes off. Marcus Spates was shot in the leg. Jamie Spates is still standing over by a pole when this occurs,” Granger told jurors. He said the two men continued to struggle and then Jamie saw another gun on Starks, bent over to pull it out, stood up and the “gun accidentally fires.”

Prosecutors said Marcus and Jamie acted in concert. “Together they arrived; together they fought; together they fled,” said Winnebago County Deputy State’s Attorney James Brun.

The state’s witnesses all gave slightly different testimony about the events. One neighbor, Anita Hall, said she saw Starks arguing with Marcus Spates, who was in the driver’s seat, and a third person on the other side of the SUV, near the sidewalk. She testified that she looked out her window after hearing the first shot and saw Starks and Marcus Spates “in the road. The third person, she said, “he was still pacing, like – behind the car.”

Hall also said she never saw Jamie Spates with a gun. After the shooting, Hall said, “The guy that was behind the wheel. ... I saw that he was trying to get up out of the road, and I saw the gun in his hand.”

A second neighbor, Patricia James, also testified that Starks was involved in an argument with only one person, who was initially inside the SUV. At one point, she said Starks was inside the SUV. Then he got out and ran towards his house and fell. James said he was shot by the other man in the vehicle.

Gloria Holmes, a third neighbor, testified that Jamie Spates was not part of the argument between Starks and Marcus Spates. Holmes said Jamie tried to help her defuse the situation with words but also said that he did not make an effort to break up the two men when Starks and Marcus Spates began fighting. She also said Jamie Spates did not have a weapon.

Dominique Martin, Starks’s girlfriend, testified that someone broke into the house she and Starks shared on October 4, and that Starks suspected Jamie Spates and another man. Martin said that she saw the Spates brothers and another man with Starks out in the street. “I heard one [shot] then Isaiah screamed in agony. Then I heard two more,” she said. Martin said she never saw Jamie Spates with a gun, only that she saw him running down the street toward his house when she ran outside after hearing the shots.

Forensic pathologist Mark Peters testified for the state that the bullet that killed Starks entered the left portion of his abdomen and exited out the right part of his back, with a slight, three-inch upward trajectory.

Neither Jamie nor Marcus Spates testified, but Granger used the pathologist’s testimony to argue that Spates was mistaken when he told the 911 operator that he shot someone. He said that Spates was standing above his brother and Starks as they fought on the ground. Because of the bullet’s path, Granger said, “there was no way he could have fired that fatal wound.”

As part of the state’s case, prosecutors showed the jury only part of Spates’s videotaped statement to police. The statement included sections where Spates talked about smoking and buying marijuana.

The jury convicted Spates of first-degree murder and mob action on March 29, 2018. Spates faced a prison sentence of between 45 years and 60 years but was never sentenced as he filed a motion for a new trial. He remained in the Winnebago County Jail.

Spates was now represented by Shelton Green. The motion for new trial argued that Spates was convicted based on insufficient evidence and that he was entitled to a new trial because of prosecutorial error, judicial error, and ineffective assistance of counsel.

The motion said that prosecutors had incorrectly told jurors that the Spates brothers arrived together, fought together, and fled together. But there was no evidence at trial that Jamie arrived with Marcus. Prosecutors also said that, “The only evidence you have before you of an individual that had a gun in his hand was this defendant.” But at least one witness had said Marcus Spates held a gun.

With regards to judicial error, the motion said Judge John Lowery erred in his jury instructions and in not granting either of Granger’s two trial motions for directed verdicts.

The new trial motion said Granger had made numerous errors. First, he didn’t object when the prosecutor made the misstatements in closing arguments. Second, he failed to properly cross-examine the state’s witnesses, which would have shown that one witness initially told the police that the man who shot Starks had on different clothing from what Jamie Spates was wearing. In addition, Granger’s cross-examinations failed to elicit testimony that Starks had a bag of bullets in his house, had a $5 bill with cocaine residue in his pocket at the time of his death, and that his autopsy showed cocaine and other drugs in his system.

Similarly, Granger didn’t ask a detective about a statement Jamie Spates made, when he said that Marcus had the gun and was supposed to turn it in. With that evidence absent, prosecutors said during closing arguments, “If this was an accident, where are the guns?”

Spates’s indictment included charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and felony murder. This allowed the state to pursue two different theories of the crime and Granger to pursue two different defenses. In Illinois, self-defense was an allowable defense to first-degree murder but not felony murder, which allowed arguments based on either accident or non-involvement. Granger shifted his strategy during the trial, starting with a defense that the shooting might have been an accident but then arguing that Spates could not be the shooter based on the pathologist’s testimony about the bullet’s trajectory. He ignored the self-defense theory, the motion said.

But most critically, according to the motion, Granger didn’t present the testimony of a man named Patrick Clements, who was with Starks that day, and had given a statement to Granger. They had returned to Starks’s house just before the argument, Clements said, and Starks already had one gun in his possession. Before going out to talk with Marcus Spates, Clements said, Starks went into his house and got another. Starks said that Jamie Spates tried unsuccessfully to calm Starks down. As Marcus Spates and Starks fought, Clements said, he saw Marcus try to grab the gun from Starks.

On May 31, 2019, Lowery vacated Spates’s convictions and granted him a new trial, which took place over three days in August 2021. The state had dismissed the mob action charge and only prosecuted Spates for second-degree murder. Spates chose to have a bench trial before Judge Debra Schafer. Green presented testimony from Clements about the number of weapons Starks possessed during the fight with Marcus Spates. On August 18, Schaefer found Spates not guilty.

Marcus Spates was indicted separately on 14 counts in 2018. His case has not gone to trial.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 9/8/2021
Last Updated: 9/8/2021
State:Illinois
County:Winnebago
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Other Violent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2017
Convicted:2018
Exonerated:2021
Sentence:Not sentenced
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:41
Contributing Factors:Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No