EAST ST. LOUIS — Judy Ferguson, the 63-year-old Caseyville business woman who many refer to as wonder woman or as a true miracle, wept as the man who shot her multiple times and left her for dead pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court.
Phillip W. Smith, 33, of East St. Louis, pleaded guilty to robbing Ferguson Television and Satellite at 105 N. Main St. in Caseyville and shooting Ferguson multiple times on Nov. 14.
Ferguson used a tissue to wipe her tears away as she looked at Smith, the man who pretended to be a customer looking to purchase a satellite from her.
Smith pleaded guilty to violating the Hobbs Act, which makes it a federal crime to obstruct interstate commerce by robbery or to injure someone during a robbery.
Smith is accused of demanding money from Ferguson, who gave him $42.
But Smith fired a gun at least nine times at Ferguson, who suffered 12 entry and exit wounds.
Ferguson, who walks with a noticeable limp from the gunshot wounds, sat on the front pew in the courtroom with her daughter, Theresa to her right and her husband Bill Ferguson to her left. Both grabbed her arms and attempted to comfort her as she wiped away tears. Theresa started to cry as well.
Smith never looked in the direction of the Ferguson family. He was represented by Assistant Federal Public Defender Judith Kuenneke.
The U.S. Attorney recommended Smith be sentenced to 25 years for the crimes. And after the hearing, both Bill and Judy Ferguson said they were happy with the sentence recommendation.
Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 26.
Smith previously was convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon in 2003, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The business was closed from Nov. 15 through Jan. 15, resulting in a loss of income for the Ferguson's.
U.S. Magistrate Donald Wilkerson asked Smith how far in school he had gotten. Smith replied 10th grade. The judge also asked Smith whether he did what the government said he did and he responded yes. As Wilkerson accepted the guilty plea from Smith, he told him "Good luck."
Multiple law enforcement agencies, which are part of the Metro East Armed Robbery Initiative, responded to the crime scene in November.
U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton praised their efforts. "Without this selfless and cooperative effort, this case may not have been solved," he said.
Wigginton is prosecuting the case along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Clark.
Several Caseyville residents, including police officers, and Mayor Leonard Black, were in the courtroom for the hearing.
Black handed out a statement that said, "We are here today supporting Judy Ferguson, not only as her friend, but representing the entire community of Caseyville. Judy is not only our friend and Caseyville family member, but more than that, Judy is our hero. Judy has faced a horrific tragedy and fought against all odds to become a survivor and a winner in life. We are here to support Judy at the end of her long journey for justice that she fought so hard and proudly to secure."
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.