Almost six years after a 20-year-old Cahokia man was murdered in what was to have been a robbery, a St. Clair County jury convicted the gunman.
Kenny G. Wicks, 29, was found guilty Thursday of first-degree murder in the shooting death of James Early Rogers Jr. on June 13, 2007.
Although the cold case took years to end, Rogers' mother, Bobby Rogers, said Thursday was a good day for the family because with the guilty verdict, "we have closure."
"It doesn't bring my son back. But, I am so happy the jury came back with the guilty verdict," she said, choking up.
"My son was wonderful. He was a son that any mother would be proud of. He was a hard worker and he went to school," Rogers said.
Assistant State's Attorney Nicole Rice told the jury that "on the evening of June 13, 2007, the defendant (Wicks) went to Cahokia with a purpose ... to the apartment of James Early Rogers Jr. to rob him. The defendant was going to take his money. But, the only thing he ended up taking was the life of 20-year-old James."
Neither Wicks nor his co-defendant, Dontez Crumble, 29, whose last known address was in the 20 block of Dora Drive in Cahokia, took anything. Instead, they fled after the shooting at 914 Frontenac, Apt. 2.
Rice told jurors that Wicks pulled out a gun and shot Rogers in the neck. As part of the evidence introduced by prosecutors, Rice said Wicks said, "I hope he's dead," as the Bonneville he was in sped away from Rogers' home.
St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said because Wicks shot Rogers with a gun, Wicks will get a 25-year enhancement added on to his sentence, which is set for March 7. The minimum sentence Wicks faces for the homicide is 45 years and the maximum is 105 years.
When Rogers didn't show up for work, his boss at McGurk's Irish Pub in St. Louis sent a co-worker to check on him.
The only witness police could find was a 12-year-old boy who told police he saw two men running from the apartment and get into a green car, Cahokia Police Chief James Jones said.
Police determined that it was a green Pontiac Bonneville.
The Major Case Squad was activated June 14 after Rogers' body was discovered by his co-worker. The squad disbanded five days later.
"We continued to follow leads, but nothing panned out. A year later we received information on the three suspects who were possibly involved," Jones said.
When Crumble was interviewed on July 8, 2008, he admitted to the robbery and said Wicks was the shooter. When Wicks was interviewed, he denied any involvement. Then, when a second man, a co-defendant in the case, Demond Eckford, 28, was interviewed by police and he said Wicks was the shooter. Jones said police learned that the green Bonneville belonged to an acquaintance of Wicks.
Later, police found out that Wicks applied for a car loan June 12, 2007, and listed Crumble and Eckford as references.
The case was submitted to the St. Clair County State's Attorney's office and "it was taken under advisement," Jones said.
Jones said a short time after the suspects were located, police recovered the Bonneville in Fairview Heights in July 2008.
Jones contacted Kelly in 2011 after Kelly was appointed the new state's attorney.
"I knew his initiative was on violent crimes," Jones said. "I contacted him and his first assistant James Piper reviewed our case. We did some follow up investigation. This work led to charges against Crumble and Eckford," Jones said.
Crumble and Eckford agreed to cooperate with investigators and will plead guilty to attempted armed robbery. Eckford agreed to a 15-year sentence and is expected to serve half of it, Kelly said. Crumble faces a 10- to 15- year sentence. Wicks, who used several addresses including ones in Belleville, Cahokia and Washington Park, was charged in September 2011.
Jones, who was the first to arrive at the scene in 2007, said he vowed to Bobby Rogers that he would do all he could to bring her some closure.
"She called me once a week and week after week, we could only tell her that we were still working on it," Jones said.
According to Kelly, "this was another very tough case with some serious obstacles, but pushing forward for this family was the right thing to do despite those risks."