Key witness changes story on who killed Bensenville store clerk

  • Stephan Russell

    Stephan Russell

 
 
Updated 11/16/2016 10:13 PM

Since his February 2014 arrest, 22-year-old Kenneth Bardlett has pointed to fellow gang member Stephan Russell as the triggerman who killed Bensenville shop clerk Hussein Saghir during a bungled armed robbery attempt on Jan. 19, 2014.

Tuesday evening, a less than cooperative Bardlett recanted his whole story while on the witness stand in Russell's first-degree murder trial. Once putting all the blame on Russell, Bardlett on Tuesday went as far as to tell Russell's attorney Roger Malavia, on cross examination, that Russell was never even in the van or at the scene of the murder the night of Jan. 19, 2014.

 

Bardlett's surprise testimony is expected to nullify a deal he struck with prosecutors back in March 2014 when he pleaded guilty to aggravated battery with a firearm and agreed to cooperate with police and testify against all co-defendants. In exchange, prosecutors said they would seek no more than a 20-year prison sentence.

Bardlett initially refused to come to court to testify Tuesday afternoon, prompting Judge Daniel Guerin to sign a "drag order" authorizing deputies to use "all reasonable force" to get Bardlett from his cell and into court.

Once in court, Bardlett was deemed a hostile witness and refused to truthfully answer questions asked by Assistant State's Attorney Mike Pawl, even denying he was the suspect shown being interviewed on several snippets of his filmed interrogation. At one point Guerin warned Bardlett to not "waste the court's time."

On cross examination, Bardlett told Malavia he was prepared to spend as much as the rest of his life in prison if charged with and convicted of murder to get the truth out and clear Russell.

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Bardlett said he was aware he faced "a lot of numbers" for changing his testimony. "40 years, 60 years, life," he said.

Prosecutors said they don't believe Bardlett's change of heart will affect the outcome of the trial because jurors will have to weigh Bardlett's recorded statements to police against his in-court testimony.

Pawl will get another crack at Bardlett this morning when he gets to redirect and tries to bring testimony back around to the state's theory.

Assistant State's Attorney Kristin Johnston said Hussein never made it home to celebrate his wife's 40th birthday that evening because a plot by five Chicago gang members to rob the store had gone horribly wrong.

Johnston said Hussein and his brother were closing Sam's Tobacco and Food Mart at 235 W. Irving Park Road around 5:45 p.m. that January night when they were confronted by Russell and Bardlett.

Bardlett grabbed Saghir's brother, Ahmad, and attempted to drag him back into the store while Russell kept a handgun pointed at Saghir, Johnston told jurors in the opening day of Russell's trial in the first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

When Saghir refused to re-enter the store, apparently to protect his nephew who was inside, Russell fired one shot from a black revolver over Saghir's head, the bullet lodging in the door frame.

"(Saghir) stayed firm. There was a child in there," Johnston said. "He was not letting (Russell) in there if his life depended on it. And it did."

Saghir continued to struggle outside the store, and Russell is accused of firing one shot below Saghir's right armpit that pierced both of his lungs and his heart, killing him almost instantly.

Johnston said the pair and a third man, Tremayne Davis, who remained in the minivan during the robbery, immediately panicked and fled to Chicago.

Bardlett, who has previous convictions for unlawful use of a weapon and reckless conduct, confessed to planning the armed robbery and, during multiple police interviews, identified Russell as the gunman and Davis, 26, as the driver of the getaway vehicle. Prosecutors say Davis, after his arrest, also identified Russell as the lone gunman.

Malavia, however, pinned the murder squarely on Davis, saying Russell was at home on the night of the slaying and was not at all involved.

The evidence, including photos, he said, will show Bardlett and Davis working together to pin the murder on Russell.

"The one person you will never see anywhere is Stephan Russell," Malavia said. "Nowhere."

Davis, of Chicago, pleaded guilty in February to attempted armed robbery and received an eight-year prison sentence, of which he must serve half. He also must testify if called.

Testimony resumes at 9:30 a.m. and the trial is expected to go into next week.

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