SYCAMORE – Ladonna English started hyperventilating when she heard the name of her slain son, Debrece Shields, and left the courtroom briefly to sob in the hallway before she returned to testify in the trial of David Walls, charged with Shields’ murder.
“I need a break,” she said, gasping after First Assistant State’s Attorney Stephanie Klein asked her to confirm her son’s name for the record.
Witness testimony began Wednesday for Day 2 of the trial of David T. Walls, 21, of the 12000 block of Normal Avenue, Chicago, at the DeKalb County courthouse. Walls is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon stemming from an Oct. 6, 2016, shooting after a drug deal gone bad that left Shields, 25, of DeKalb, dead from a single gunshot wound. If Walls is convicted of first-degree murder with a firearm, he faces up to 75 years in prison.
The eight-person jury, made up of three women and five men, watched the somber affair for hours Wednesday, as English’s emotional but brief testimony began a day of at least eight witnesses.
In a dramatic turn of events, Nico Griggs, 30, also charged with first-degree murder in the death of Shields, took the witness stand and testified against Walls – whom he said he’d never met before Oct. 6. In exchange for his truthful testimony, because of a deal agreed upon by the DeKalb Court State’s Attorney’s Office, Griggs’ murder charges were dropped Wednesday. He pleaded guilty to aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and was sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Robbin Stuckert to three years in prison.
Griggs already served 1,251 days in DeKalb County Jail.
He was taken into custody the night of the murder, when an off-duty DeKalb County Sheriff’s deputy, James Eklund, arrested Griggs and Walls after their getaway car ran out of gas on Peace Road.
“So you’re done,” Walls’ defense attorney, Liam Dixon, said to Griggs. “All you have to do is testify against David Walls. Whether you breach this agreement is determined by the state’s attorney, correct? You know what they’re trying to do, right? They’re trying to convict David Walls. So you know what they want out of this testimony, right?”
The night of the shooting
Testimonies Wednesday recounted how Griggs drove from Chicago to DeKalb with Walls, whom he’d met that day through a mutual friend, Norris Davison, who also acccompanied them to buy some marijuana. The three met up with another man in DeKalb, and their journey led them to the Kimberly Apartments parking lot between 810 and 820 Kimberly Drive about 10:30 p.m. Oct. 6, 2016.
Griggs said he didn’t know Walls had a gun when he got into his tan Jeep Grand Cherokee, or that he was going to shoot anyone, only that Walls exited the car to get the weed from Shields, who was in a red Nissan Altima. Griggs said he heard two shots and wanted to drive away, but the other two told him not to leave Walls.
Klein asked if Walls said anything to the group when he got back in the car.
“He said that the guy tried to up on him, and he shot him,” Griggs said, explaining that “up on him” meant Walls said Shields tried to pull a gun on him. Griggs said Walls described the gun as “big and chrome.”
Testimony from three police officers, including DeKalb Police Deputy Keith Herke, did not uncover any chrome guns or firearms near or inside Shields’ car or around the crime scene. Instead, Herke found small pools of Shields’ blood on the ground to the left of Shields’ car. A small plastic bag full of marijuana and the keys to Shields’ car also lay on the ground, along with a second bullet casing.
Patrol Officer Emily Cavacos, formerly with the Northern Illinois University Police Department, was on foot patrol that night and was blocks away from the shooting when it occurred. She saw Shields bleeding from the mouth and chest, she said, and attempted to revive him with CPR.
“I could see that he was bleeding from his mouth and chest, and he was moving his head back and forth, making gasping sounds,” Cavacos said. “I tilted his head to the side because I was trying to get some of the blood out of his mouth.”
She said she lifted Shields’ shirt to find the source of the bleeding and stem it.
“Then he took one more gasp, and after that he stopped gasping and did not appear to be breathing anymore,” Cavasos said. “I checked for a pulse again, and I did not find one.”
Prosecutors and witnesses said the individual who was seen walking away from Shields’ matches Walls’ description that night: bright pants and a dark-colored hoodie.
Eklund’s dashcam footage later that evening showed a visibly panicked Walls in handcuffs in the back of the car.
On camera in the back of Eklund’s car, Walls appeared to sweat heavily, chewing his inner cheek, looking side to side and squeezing his eyes tightly shut in a grimace at one point as he lowered his head to his chest.
Walls trial will continue 9 a.m. Thursday in courtroom 220.