A 33-year-old documented gang member with 38 prior arrests has been charged in the devastating March shooting of a six-month-old Chicago girl – and police claim the alleged murder was in retaliation for a stolen video game system.
Koman Willis is facing first degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm charges after he allegedly shot dead baby Jonylah Watkins while aiming for her father, Jonathan Watkins.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said at a Monday press conference that Mr Watkins had earlier robbed Willis, prompting the spray of bullets.
The man turned himself in on the weekend though he is yet to provide a statement and no weapon has been recovered, McCarthy said.
But witness accounts and pictures of the shooter’s van leaving the scene were among the evidence that led police to file the charges.
‘I don’t want to use cliche terms, but police were pounding the pavement,’ McCarthy said, according to DNA info.
Little Jonylah was struck by a bullet on March 11 while she sat in a minivan with her father who was also shot three times but survived.
Reverend Corey Brooks, who held a emotionally-charged funeral service for the baby in March and is acting as a spokesman for the family, said Jonylah’s parents had been cooperating with police to find their daughter’s killer.
Brooks added that Watkins, 29, who has a lengthy criminal history and was criticized by the community in the wake of his daughter’s death, hadn’t been asked by police to identify a possible shooter.
Progress: Police said they’ve been pounding the pavement on the case of Jonylah Watkins, pictured
Murdered: Jonylah Watkins was shot as she sat on her father, Jonathan’s lap. She survived a separate shooting of her mother Judy when she was still in the womb
‘Jonathan has been very cooperative. He’s worked with the police diligently. He wants the person to be caught,’ Brooks told the Chicago Sun Times.
The smiley baby was buried amid emotional scenes in a Chicago church on March 19.
As the tiny body of Jonylah lay before mourners in an open coffin, Reverend Brooks, called on local gang members to change.
The baby’s maternal grandmother, Mary Young, also read a poem pleading for the local community to change, saying: ‘My neighbors of Chicago, what have thou done?’
Jonylah died on March 11 when a bullet tore through several organs in her body in what was the second time the infant had been a victim of gunfire: when her mother Judy, 20, was eight months pregnant, she was shot in the knee as she walked home with a group of women.
Jonylah’s father was shot multiple times in the attack that killed his daughter but survived.
At the time of the funeral, frustrated police said no-one had yet come forward from the local community with information to help the murder investigation.
Jonylah’s grandmother took the opportunity to hit out at the culture of silence in a poem she had written for the service.
Change: In his March 19 eulogy Reverend Corey Brooks, pictured, called on gang members to use Jonylah’s death as a catalyst to change their lifestyles
Grief: A family member is consoled during Jonylah’s March 19 funeral at the New Beginnings Church in Chicago
She said: ‘My neighbors of Chicago, our youth is in danger on the streets of the town with the false code of silence while they shoot each other down.
‘My neighbors of Chicago, take back your home. Don’t spare the rod and leave your children to roam.’
Reverend Brooks echoed Mrs Watkins’ sentiments in his eulogy.
‘I want to challenge you to get clean, change, and that change starts with believing you can change,’ he said, according to .
Jonylah had been sitting in her father’s lap in the driver’s seat of a parked minivan when a Willis allegedly opened fire.
The baby, whose mother was working at McDonalds at the time, died the next morning from her wounds after surgeons spent hours trying to save her.
McCarthy initially said the shooting appeared to be gang-related, though detectives didn’t have a specific motive until Monday.
Despite the shocking crime, neighbors were refusing to cooperate with police.
‘We don’t have one individual who’s stepping up to help us,’ McCarthy said in late March, though it appears the community came forward with information and photos in the intervening months.
Support: Mourners cling to each other for comfort in front of the white coffin in which Jonylah lies, in pink dress and white bonnet.