The color of his skin | Feature | Chicago Reader

The color of his skin 

A missing gun, a wavering prosecution, and decades of regret.
Part 2 of 2.

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Leotha Price also testified. He told the jurors about an earlier fight he'd had with Fehil at 56th and Justine. When Fehil's friends joined in, one of them hitting Price with a bat, Price's seven-year-old daughter, who saw this happen from across the street, "told my brother-in-law, Joe Henson, they were all jumping on me, and he came up and they all ran," Price said. Henson wanted to chase them, but Price told him not to.

Soon after, a window in Price's apartment was broken, Price said. He didn't see who broke it, but that was when he grabbed a small pipe and Henson a stick and they headed down the alley.

A juror asked him why he brought the pipe with him. "To protect myself," Price said.

"What were you going to do?" the juror asked.

"We were going to look for them."

"To do what?"

"To get it over with," Price said. "To see if they were going to keep harassing us in that neighborhood, breaking our windows and me not being able to go to the store, back and forth, or shop."

"To have a conversation with them?" the juror asked.

"Yes, to get it settled," Price said.

As they came out of the alley, he saw a group of 20 to 30 boys, he said. He heard a gunshot, though at the time he didn't know that's what it was, he told the jury. He didn't see who fired it. "Joe jumped behind a car. I jumped back into the alley behind a garage. When I jumped back out, I threw my pipe." Then he either heard Joe holler or saw him fall in the street, and he ran to him. He said he saw Schickel with a gun: "Schickel and Fehil were still there and I heard Fehil ask Schickel, 'Give me the gun, give me the gun.' The exact words," he said.

After he reached Henson in the street, "I had him in my arms. Joe was laying and his eyes dilated, his mouth open, gasping, and I was doing everything to help him after they had all turned and ran."

Schickel's lawyer, Albert Armonda, then questioned Price. He focused on the fact that Price hadn't called police after the fight at 56th and Justine, or after the window was broken.

"You took the law in your own hands, armed with sticks to go after 20 to 30 men?" Armonda asked.

"We took sticks and went to look for them," Price said.

"What were you going to say?"

"To ask why they break the window and why jump on me," Price said.

"Did you need sticks to ask a question?"

"Did they need to jump on me with bats?"

Allen Henson also testified briefly. He said his family had moved into the neighborhood the preceding February, and had had seven windows broken so far. "Every time we call the police they tell us, 'OK, we will send a squad out there,'" he said.

When his testimony was finished, he added an unsolicited comment: "One man pulled the trigger, but all of them is guilty."

Schickel, Fehil, and Swanson were present at the inquest, and all declined to testify. The six jurors retired to another room to deliberate, and soon returned with their verdict: Henson was the victim not of murder but of involuntary manslaughter.

Under Illinois law, a person commits murder if he acted with intent, or with the knowledge that his act created a strong probability of death. Involuntary manslaughter entails reckless actions instead of intended ones. The sentencing range for murder at the time was 14 years to life; for involuntary manslaughter, one year to ten.

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