Witness claims threats, collapses at murder trial in Belleville

Filed under: Security guidelines |

A key witness in the prosecution of Aaron “Chill” Jackson for the murder of Washington Park Mayor John Thornton collapsed on the stand late Wednesday, after reportedly passing a woman in the hallway who she believed was part of an effort to threaten her life.

Aaron Jackson

Aaron Jackson of Washington Park in an undated photo provided by authorities

LaQueshia Jackson, who is not related to the defendant, had just told the judge that she was nervous about taking the stand because her car was stolen and she received threatening phone calls after testifying Monday in the first-degree murder trial.

She also said someone had called her children’s school claiming to be from the state’s attorney’s office and wanting to know her children’s whereabouts; State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said it was not anybody from his office, and officials are investigating.

“They know where I go to school, they know where I go to work, they know when my kids get on the bus, when my kids get off the bus,” she explained to Judge Milton Wharton.

“I’m just scared for my life right now.” LaQueshia Jackson ultimately agreed to go forward. But after just one question from defense lawyer Thomas Keefe III, she slumped in her chair. After about a minute, she started snoring, then went into what court officials described as a seizure.

An ambulance took her to a hospital; her condition was not known.A court clerk testified that just prior to the collapse, LaQueshia Jackson told her she saw a woman with dark hair and blond highlights who had gone to her house the night before.

It was one of several dramas surrounding LaQueshia Jackson’s courtroom appearance Wednesday. Testimony is to resume today. Keefe was planning to question Jackson about her earlier testimony that she never spoke with Detective Kim McAfee, one of the lead investigators from the Washington Park police. According to Keefe, an Illinois State Police report says otherwise.

McAfee is a controversial figure in the trial because he pleaded guilty in an unrelated case this year to more than 30 federal charges involving his security firm’s work for the East St. Louis school district. Before the jury was brought in to hear from Jackson, Wharton asked her about an anonymous tip that had come into the state’s attorney’s office. The tipster claimed that a police officer had paid Jackson to testify to certain things. She denied it.

Keefe and Kelly declined comment later. Earlier in the day, Keefe called state police Special Agent Joe Bates back to the stand. Keefe questioned Bates on the different accounts he received from witnesses who claimed to see Aaron Jackson fleeing from the scene: one said he got into a white Chevrolet Suburban; the other two described a red Impala.

Bates described how one of the witnesses said she saw Thornton’s car stop in front of a well-known drug house on 47th Street, at which point Aaron Jackson entered it and they drove away. Keefe questioned her credibility, noting that she was more than 150 yards away, in the dark.

Thornton’s body was found about 5:43 a.m. April 1, 2009, after his car crashed into a tree at 48th and Caseyville streets. He had been shot three times, with one fatal shot at close range to his chest, forensic experts said. LaQueshia Jackson told the jury on Monday that she saw Aaron Jackson leaving Thornton’s car after she heard gunshots and that she recognized him from his limp and profile. She said she did not see a gun.

Forensic experts testified that there was gunpowder residue on Aaron Jackson’s left hand, but that there were no fingerprints or blood inside the car that matched his. He did leave a fingerprint on the outside of the car, according to the testimony, but there were dozens of prints from others as well. There was blood on his pants that experts said could have come from Thornton, or others.

Thornton, 52, knew Jackson, 36, police said. The mayor was driving home from work as an overnight shift foreman at the Metro East Sanitary District when he died.