Suspect charged in Chicago baby's shooting death

May 27, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Koman Willis, 33, of the 7800-block of South St. Lawrence Ave. has been charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery for the shooting in the 6500-block of S. Maryland, in which Jonathan Watkins, 29, was shot and wounded, and his 6-month-old daughter, Jonylah, was shot and killed. Willis was arrested after police got a break in the case last week.

"We were able to identify witnesses last week that we had not identified earlier in the investigation; they provided some key information that started the ball rolling," said Lt. Kevin Duffin of the Chicago Police Department.

Willis has at least 37 arrests on his criminal record. Willis turned himself in on Saturday with his attorney after he heard that detectives were looking for him. Police say Willis had been a suspect since the beginning of the investigation.

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said the shooting stemmed from a burglary in which the baby's father was involved, and the shooting suspect was the burglary victim.

Jonylah Watkins was struck by a single bullet on March 11 as she sat in a minivan with her father in the Woodlawn neighborhood. The murder captured national headlines as she became another innocent face of Chicago's gun violence.

Police have not yet located the weapon that was used in the shooting or the van that police believe Willis used to escape. Willis has not confessed to the crime.

With the news of an arrest, Jonylah's parents held hands in silence while their preacher spoke for them.

"Everyone wished it could be sooner, but we know for a fact that police are diligent and hardworking," New Beginnings Church Rev. Corey Brooks said.

McCarthy said the same detective, Kevin Duffin, who led the Hadiya Pendleton murder investigation also led Jonylah's.

Brooks says much of the policework involved daily cooperation with Jonathan Watkins. Police sources have said he was likely the intended target. Watkins has a lengthy criminal past and was a gang member. While Watkins and Willis are known gang members, investigators say the motive for the shooting was not gang-related. McCarthy says the shooting was motivated by retaliation over a stolen video game system.

"Jonathan Watkins was involved in a burglary where the offender of the shooting was victim of that burglary," said McCarthy.

Brooks says if there is any good that has come from Jonylah's death, it's the fact that her father is turning his life around.

"The fact that he is working now, the fact that he is getting a GED, all of that stuff was not happening before," Brooks said.

At the beginning of the case, McCarthy says that it was difficult to get Jonathan Watkins to cooperate. McCarthy credits Brooks for helping Watkins help police. Brooks has been speaking for Jonathan and his wife, Judy.

"The family... spent the day at the gravesite and I called Jonathan and Judy before coming here and they're very grateful and thankful," said Brooks. "Hopefully they'll be able to put this part behind them."

Brooks credits community members for giving Watkins a second chance. In the meantime, Brooks says Jonylah's father will continue to do his part to close the case. Brooks also says that Jonathan and Judy Watkins will answer reporters' questions at a press conference on Tuesday.

McCarthy says that Watkins is likely not to be charged with the burglary that motivated the shooting. Willis is expected to appear in bond court on Tuesday.

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