Witnesses testify in Cal City slaying case

2 men say they saw defendant fire shots that killed TF North student
2008-11-14T00:00:00Z Witnesses testify in Cal City slaying caseTimes Staff nwitimes.com
November 14, 2008 12:00 am  • 

MARKHAM | Two witnesses testified Thursday that Mario Sawyer fired the shots that killed a Calumet City teen during his first-degree murder trial Thursday.

Sawyer is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Thornton Fractional North High School student Samuel Rogers, 17. Sawyer is accused of shooting Rogers as he stood outside a Calumet City party Nov. 17, 2007, at a home in the 1600 block of Shirley Drive.

Milton Smith, 19, and Eugene Burnett, 24, both of Calumet City, testified they were in the car with Sawyer and three other passengers when he got out and fired a revolver at a group outside the house.

Sawyer and Rogers' families were both in the courtroom listening to the testimony.

Rogers' TF North High School letter jacket was folded discreetly underneath his father's seat. The '09 on the Meteors jacket was a reminder of the year he would have graduated.

Smith said his group was kicked out after the homeowner said her son had been "jumped on by boys 156." Sawyer, who had recently used Chicago and Calumet City addresses before his arrest, reportedly has ties to the 156 Boys street gang from the area of Wentworth Avenue and 156th Street.

When the group drove off and turned around after hitting two dead ends, Sawyer stopped the car down the street and fired at several people standing outside of the house, Smith said.

"He got out of the driver's door and said (expletives) and started shooting," Smith said.

In his cross-examination, Sawyer's defense attorney Howard Wise noted that Smith and Sawyer had been in a fight prior to the shooting and a contempt of court charge against Sawyer was dropped after he testified. Smith also testified he was a member of the Vice Lords.

Neither Smith or Burnett went to the police after the shooting.

Burnett said Sawyer threatened them if they told.

"(He said), 'You better not say nothing,'" Burnett said. "'You know what I'm capable of doing. You don't know nothing. Don't say nothing.'" Also during the trial Thursday, Associate Judge Douglas Simpson admonished Rogers' family after one of the jurors told a deputy that she had seen the victim's family with a poster and fliers about Rogers on Monday.

The judge spent 1 1/2 hours individually questioning jurors about whether they had seen it and whether it would affect their fairness.

Outside the courtroom, Wise said only one juror saw it and didn't look closely at it, and she was to be respected for her fairness by bringing it to the court's attention. He said he didn't think it would affect the fairness of the trial.

But he was shocked the victim's family tried to interfere with justice, and they weren't charged with anything, Wise said.

"This is a murder trial," he said. "A man's life is on the line."

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