Getaway driver says he didn't know Bensenville store clerk was killed
Tremayne Davis says he drove Stephan Russell and Kenneth Bardlett in a minivan as they fled from a Bensenville tobacco shop in the moments after the owner was shot and killed during an armed robbery attempt Jan. 19, 2014.
But Davis, 26, testified Wednesday in DuPage County court that it wasn't until days later, when he saw footage of the shooting on television, that he realized what Bardlett and Russell had done.
"It ain't my business," Davis said. "I didn't want to be involved."
Prosecutors said Hussein Saghir and his brother were closing the store at 235 W. Irving Park Road just before 6 p.m. when they were confronted by Bardlett and Russell. Saghir refused to re-enter the store, apparently because he wanted to protect his 3-year-old nephew, who was inside.
After a brief struggle, authorities said, Russell killed Saghir with a gunshot under his right arm that punctured both lungs and his heart.
Russell is on trial this week, charged with first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery.
Davis said Wednesday that he was hanging out at the Chicago home he shared with his grandmother on the afternoon of Jan. 19 when he got a call from a friend to join them outside. A short time later, he was a passenger in Bardlett's van, not knowing where they were going or why.
It was common, he said, for the men to drive around without a plan. But he testified he'd never been to Bensenville or Sam's Tobacco before that night.
When the van pulled up by the store shortly before 6 p.m., Davis didn't know what was going on or why Russell and Bardlett got out. He said he also did not know Russell had the revolver that Davis regularly kept at his home.
"After one or two minutes they ran out," Davis said. He said his "instincts" led him to jump from the passenger's seat to the driver seat when he saw them running toward the van.
"I thought there was danger or somebody was trying to hurt them," he said. "Bardlett jumped in the passenger seat, and Russell jumped in the back."
As he drove away, Davis said, he saw the gun on the van's middle seat. But he said he didn't discuss what unfolded at the store until three weeks later, when police showed up at his house.
Davis admitted that he tried to cook up at least one false alibi while he's been in jail, but in February he accepted a deal in which prosecutors agreed to drop all murder charges against him. He ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of attempted armed robbery and received an eight-year prison sentence, of which he will serve half.
As part of his plea deal, Davis was required to testify in any other related case. He also filmed a video account of the night's events from behind closed doors in the judge's conference room.
Prosecutors said 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 as the driver of the getaway vehicle.
Bardlett pleaded guilty in March 2014 to aggravated battery with a firearm, and prosecutors said they would seek no more than a 20-year prison sentence if he testified truthfully in the case against Russell. But he likely nullified the deal Tuesday and again Wednesday when he recanted his previous version of events on the witness stand to say Russell was not involved.
Testimony resumes this morning.