Russell maintains innocence in murder of Bensenville store clerk
For nearly three years, DuPage County prosecutors have pinned the Jan. 19, 2014 shooting death of a Bensenville shop clerk on 23-year-old Stephan Russell.
Speaking for the first time Thursday, from the witness stand in his first-degree murder trial, Russell told the 13 jurors that he was actually several miles from Bensenville, in his mother's Armitage Avenue home in Chicago on the night of Saghir's slaying.
"I've got responsibilities," Russell said. "I was with my siblings."
Prosecutors doubt the alibi defense, saying it wasn't filed until July 29 of this year.
Russell's mother, Teshia Russell, and 20-year-old sister Stephanie Russell also testified that Stephan Russell spent all day and night at the home playing Xbox and watching his four younger brothers and sisters once Teshia Davis left for work around 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 19, 2014. She said Stephan was also home when she returned around 3 a.m.
"Stephan was responsible for the four younger children because he was the oldest," his mother testified. Stephanie Russell said her brother was responsible for "making sure no boys came over" when her mother was gone.
But prosecutors and at least one of Russell's two co-defendants now say Russell was actually the gunman who killed Saghir as he and his brother were closing the store at 235 W. Irving Park Road just before 6 p.m., when they were confronted by Kenneth 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, prosecutors said, Russell killed Saghir with a gunshot under his right arm that punctured both lungs and his heart. The gun has never been found.
Tremayne Davis, 26, accepted a deal in February 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.
Davis told jurors that he drove Russell and Bardlett to the tobacco shop but didn't witness the robbery or murder. He also testified that he identified Russell as the shooter to police when they showed him photos of the shooting taken from the store's security camera.
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 in the robbery or murder.
Closing arguments are scheduled for this afternoon. Jurors were warned Thursday that they may be sequestered for the weekend if deliberations extend late into the night.