COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Two men on trial for murder swore they had no choice but to shoot first when they pumped 25 rounds into reputed gang leader Raymond Washington.
But two separate juries hearing their cases this week did not buy the self-defense story and found Reginald Royal and Lonnial Roundtree guilty of first-degree murder Friday.
Washington, the alleged leader of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang, died in a hail of gunfire on the West Side in 2009. A witness, struck by one of the bullets meant for Washington, said he saw rival gang members Royal and Roundtree do it.
Taking the stand in their own defense this week, Royal and Roundtree freely admitted that they killed Washington, giving jurors a play-by-play account of the shooting. But they claimed they were acting in self-defense. They said rival gang leader wanted them dead and had ordered multiple attempts on their lives.
On April 23, 2009, the day they killed Washington in broad daylight on a West Side street, Royal and Roundtree said they planned to "settle a beef" with the rival gang leader, not "execute" the unarmed man, as prosecutors alleged.
Royal and Roundtree, two longtime friends and admitted members of the Unknown Vice Lords, said Washington not only tried to have them killed the day before and in the past, he pulled out a gun in the alley when they showed up to try to make peace, forcing their hands.
"We were going to have a conversation with Mr. Raymond Washington ... about stopping the attempts on my life," Royal, 36, told his jury. "I wish it hadn't led to me having to take a life."
Both Royal and his co-defendant, the 24-year-old Roundtree, claimed that Washington pulled a gun first.
Washington "had the gun in his hand, so I just started shooting," Roundtree testified.
When he finally stopped, Roundtree said he stood frozen until a friend pulled him back into their SUV so they could drive off.
"I had just shot somebody who was trying to kill me," Roundtree said. "The police were behind me. I was scared."
No weapon, however, was recovered from the scene. And another man — a home inspector with Washington at the time — testified he was unarmed.
Prosecutors on cross-examination tried to get the men to hold the guns they used in the shooting, to demonstrate for their separate juries how they carried out the killing.
"Go ahead, show the ladies and gentlemen of the jury how you shot him," Darman demanded of Royal as he tried to hand him an unloaded Glock.
Neither of the men would hold the guns.
Both Royal and Roundtree testified that they knew Washington, personally and by reputation, as the "violent" leader of the Four Corner Hustlers, a rival criminal enterprise.
"He was in control of all the Four Corner Hustlers in the city of Chicago," Roundtree said. "South Side, West Side, North Side ... and the suburbs."
The two men said Washington was known in the street as "Big Four" and "Blood." He earned the latter alias for leaving "a trail of blood," Royal said.
According to both men, Washington tried to kill them multiple times.
Royal said he called Terrance Hilson, a friend and first cousin of Washington, hoping he could help smooth things over before he and Roundtree wound up dead.
Hilson, now charged as the driver in Washington's murder, picked up Royal and Roundtree and drove them to a two-flat in the 3800 block of West Flournoy.
There, Washington was meeting with a Chicago Housing Authority inspector to have the unit approved for the Section 8 voucher program, prosecutors said. The two of them were standing in the alley as the inspector examined the building's exterior.
Royal and Roundtree stepped out of the car, they said. Washington looked toward them, his lips curled into a smirk and pulled out a gun, they said.
Both Royal and Roundtree started shooting. They kept shooting, prosecutors said, until the magazines inside both of their guns had been emptied and Washington lay dead in the alley. The CHA inspector was hit in the groin but survived.
With an eyewitness and a mountain of evidence against them, the defendants, with their attorneys, decided to admit to the killing and claim self-defense.
A bold strategy, it failed to win over two separate juries that quickly found the both men guilty following closing statements on Friday.
A bench trial for a third man, the alleged driver, has been continued until Oct. 17.