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Robert Williams

Other Illinois Exonerations
At about 6 a.m. on September 24, 2016, Robert Williams shot Jermaine Mason inside Victoria Kennedy’s small apartment in Manteno, Illinois.

Mason, who was 27 years old, had recently moved in with Kennedy, but they had a rocky relationship. After a fight on the night of September 23, Mason left the apartment to stay with family. Kennedy then contacted 28-year-old Williams, whom she met a few weeks earlier on an online dating site. At about 1 a.m., Kennedy invited Williams to the apartment, and he arrived at about 4:30 a.m.

They were having sex when Mason returned and saw a strange car in his parking spot. He banged on the door, then entered the apartment, and began moving to the bedroom when shots rang out. Williams fired nine shots from a semiautomatic pistol, hitting Mason five times. Mason survived his injuries.

Williams fled the apartment, carrying his clothes, and drove 60 miles north to Chicago, making a detour along the way to throw the weapon off a bridge in Indiana. At the time, Williams lived in Indiana and had a valid concealed-carry permit from the state. U.S. Marshals later arrested Williams at a relative’s house in Chicago. He was charged with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.

Williams’s bench trial before Judge Kathy Bradshaw-Elliott of Kankakee County Circuit Court began in November 2017. Mason said it was still dark when he returned to Kennedy’s apartment on September 24. A light from the parking area provided the only illumination. The front door was on a small balcony. It opened into the kitchen, which was separated from the bedroom by a curtain rather than a door. Mason said he came to try to patch things up. He said he knocked on the balcony door and let himself in when no one answered. Mason said Kennedy met him in the kitchen and told him there was a man in the bedroom. Mason said he told her: “I don’t care. Watch out. I’m getting some clothes.”

Mason testified that he was shot as he started to move the curtain to enter the bedroom. The first bullet hit him in the stomach, then quickly the chest, arm, hip and leg. Both Mason and Kennedy testified that as Williams fled, he told Mason, “I’m sorry, bro.”

Williams testified that he shot Mason in self-defense at a moment when he was both naked and afraid. He said that he and Kennedy were in bed when Mason banged “aggressively” on the door. Kennedy said, “Oh, shit, he’s going to kill me.” She grabbed some clothes and ran out of the bedroom toward the balcony door, assuring Williams that Mason didn’t have a key. He did.

Williams tried unsuccessfully to find a light in the bedroom and then reached under the bed and found his gun. He said he peeked out of the bedroom. He said that he could not make out Mason’s face, as the only light was from outside, but he could see that Mason was a much larger man. He said he also saw a dark object in Mason’s hand, and he began firing as Mason entered the bedroom. The first shot was from the bedroom, but other shots were fired in the kitchen. The object in Mason’s hand was a cellphone.

Kennedy testified that Williams ran past her, firing his weapon. She said he yelled at her and accused her of setting the whole thing up, and threatened to shoot her.

Williams said his gun had an easy trigger. He said he fired reflexively because he was scared for his life. He denied threatening Kennedy. He said he confronted her after the shooting because she tried to prevent him from returning to the bedroom to get his keys and cellphone.

In December 2017, Judge Bradshaw-Elliott found Williams not guilty of attempted first-degree murder but guilty of the other two charges.

After the trial, Williams filed a motion for either a finding of not guilty or a new trial. He said that the state had not proven him guilty of the aggravated battery charge because it had failed to negate his claim of self-defense. He also said that the state’s failure to recognize his Indiana gun permit violated his constitutional rights.

Judge Bradshaw-Elliott rejected his motion on March 8, 2018, and sentenced Williams to nine years in prison.

Williams appealed, and the Illinois Appellate Court for the Third District, vacated his convictions on August 4, 2020. It said: “A person who is thrust into a life-endangering situation is not required to use infallible judgment in deciding whether and how to act to defend himself. Such a requirement would be unreasonable to impose upon a decision that must be made very quickly by a person who is fearful and under great stress.”

While Judge Bradshaw-Elliott said Williams’s decision to continue shooting after he left the bedroom negated his claim of self-defense, the appellate court said she was drawing too fine a distinction. “No evidence was presented to suggest that there was any lapse, delay, or significant change in circumstances between the shots fired in the bedroom and the shots fired in the kitchen,” the court said.

The appellate court also held that without the battery conviction, the weapons charge could not stand because at the time of the shooting Illinois law permitted Williams to carry a weapon covered by an Indiana gun permit.

Williams was released from prison on September 24, 2020, and the charges were later dismissed. He obtained a certificate of innocence in Kankakee County Circuit Court on July 12, 2021, which allowed him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois for his wrongful conviction. The state awarded him $80,000 on September 9, 2021.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 12/10/2021
Last Updated: 12/10/2021
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2016
Sentence:9 years
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No