Paralyzed teen takes witness stand

October 13, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Thursday was the first day of testimony at the trial of 17-year-old Robert Sansberry.

Sansberry is charged as an adult. Prosecutors say he shot Perteet at close range in 2009, leaving the high school freshman paralyzed.

Investigators had a hard time working the case, because no one would come forward with information, even though several people witnessed the shooting.

Every day at the Cook County Courthouse at 26th and California there are many trials that are similar to the proceedings that got under way Thuirsday in Courtroom 207. But, because they are so common, they often fly under the public radar.

But for the last two years we have visited periodically with Ondelee Perteet, a young shooting victim whose life has been forever changed. Thursday, Ondelee was in the courtroom for the first time face to face with the young man accused of pulling the trigger.

His life today is quite different than the one he once imagined. A bullet wound to his spinal cord has left Ondelee Perteet a quadriplegic.

In the two years since the shooting, Ondelee, now 17, has made extraordinary progress with his rehab, exceeding the expectations of his doctors and therapists, and as Ondelee acknowledged Thursday, even his own expectations. He is enormously determined, but his will remain a difficult journey.

Thursday, though, a different journey: Back in time to the September night two years ago when Ondelee was shot.

It happened outside an apartment house on Laramie at Augusta. Ondelee's older sister was hosting a birthday party. Fights broke out. Ondelee interceded, dismissed some uninvited guests. Suddenly there is a gun and Ondelee is shot.

Four months passed before the arrest of the alleged shooter, Sansberry, who at the time was 15.

Sansberry's attorney Dennis Giovanini told the jury Thursday: "Everybody agrees this is a tragedy. We feel sorry f

or Ondelee Perteet, but that has nothing to do with who shot him." "The only reason Robert Sansberry is here," his lawyer said, "is because he's the easy suspect for everyone."

Indeed, Ondelee, who was the prosecution's first witness, testified that he did not see who shot him, only that there was a white light, and then he found himself on the ground struggling to breathe, unable to move his arms and legs.

The frustration of the Perteet family as well as police and prosecutors is that while there were dozens of people at the party, and presumably multiple witnesses to the shooting, only a few have reluctantly agreed to testify.

And, Thursday afternoon, one of those witnesses recanted what she had earlier told police. Cassandra King, a friend of Robert Sansberry, had told detectives months ago that Sansberry had admitted to the shooting. On the stand Thursday, King said she had no recollection of that, didn't want to be in court, and when asked why, she replied, "Because it ain't none of my business. Whatever happened happened."

The jury's decision in this case will hinge largely on how it reads the credibility of the few witnesses that will be testifying.

Two families -- the Sansberrys and the Perteets -- both say they hunger for justice.

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