COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Two men charged in the 2011 basketball court slaying of a 13-year-old player in Bronzeville were convicted of murder this week in a case prosecutors argued was gang members firing at rivals and hitting and innocent boy instead.
Darius Brown, a promising young basketball player, was on the court in Metcalfe Park "doing what he loved" when he was shot dead, prosecutors said at trial.
The teen, known for his speed and his shot, was playing in a game in August 2011 when three gang members, bent on revenge, opened fire.
After the shooting, whether out of loyalty to the gangs or fear of reprisal, would-be witnesses in the crowded park refused to talk to police. But on Monday, two of the men charged — Jamal Streeter, 20, and Aramis Beachem, 24 — were convicted of murder.
"It was a perfect day for basketball. That's what a group of several young kids were doing in the park ... shooting hoops," Assistant State's Attorney Bill Bruce said during closing statements. "Darius Brown had no idea he was playing his last game."
"The kids at the park had no idea [the defendants] had hatched a plan to exact blood," Bruce said. "[They] unleashed hell, shot after shot after shot."
When the gunfire erupted from State Street, the people in the park ran for cover. But vulnerable in the middle of the open court, the basketball players were "like fish in a barrel."
One of the bullets hit Darius in the neck, prosecutors said. He tried to run, but made little ground, collapsing as the blood soaked through his shirt.
Beachem and Streeter were found guilty in separate trials Monday night. A jury found Streeter guilty, and a judge convicted Beachem in a bench trial.
A third man, Vito Richmond, has yet to be tried.
Prosecutors said Darius died an innocent victim of a feud between two factions of the same street gang.
A war between rival factions of the Gangster Disciples — the 37th Avenue Boys and Welch World/So Icy — was raging on the South Side in 2011. The violence claimed Streeter's 24-year-old sister, Princess Streeter, who was shot six times in the 2600 block of East 75th Street earlier that year. She was also the mother of Beachem's daughter.
The day Darius died, Beachem and Streeter were targeting a rival in the park. That man wasn't hit, but he stayed with Darius until police arrived. He told officers he was the likely target, not Darius.
That man later identified one or more of the defendants, prosecutors said. But police didn't have enough, so they enlisted the help of an informant, Keith Daniels.
Authorities say Daniels, 27, located the weapon that was used to kill Darius, bought it on the street and turned it over to police.
Daniels didn't live to testify in the trial, however. He was shot and killed in April 2013 in a slaying that was not apparently related to his help in the Darius Brown murder probe. Instead, he was killed in apparent retaliation for helping the feds take down the top of a street gang known as the Hobos.
Investigators in the Darius Brown case moved forward despite their informant's death, arresting both Streeter and Beachem.
In a videotaped statement played in court Monday, Beachem told police he went to Metcalfe Park the morning of Aug. 3, his 22nd birthday, to look for members of the Welch World/So Icy street gang.
"We were looking for the hats; I don't see no hats out there," he said.
In the videotaped statement, Beachem also told investigators he then went to pick up the gun from a man named "Scabby."
With his 8-month-old daughter in the car, Beachem then met with Streeter and Richmond at 38th Street and Michigan, Beachem said in his videotaped statement. It was there that he handed off the gun, he said.
The three men charged in the murder then drove to Metcalfe Park, with Beachem in his girlfriend's white Nissan, and Streeter and Richmond in a Dodge Charger. At least nine shots were fired from the Charger, with one hitting Darius.
Beachem's attorneys argued he had no part in the shooting or its planning and was focused on his birthday plans, which were to follow later that night on the West Side.
A lawyer representing Streeter questioned whether the prosecution's witness, and the informant, Daniels, could be trusted.
However, jurors and Vincent Gaughan returned guilty verdicts in Darius' murder.