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Appellate court upholds life sentence in '94 Belleville murder

By Steve Korris | Mar 11, 2011


MOUNT VERNON – St. Clair County Chief Judge John Baricevic harbored no prejudice when he sentenced Bobby Williams to life in prison for killing store clerk Sharon Bushong, Fifth District appeals judges decided on March 8.

Justices Richard Goldenhersh, Thomas Welch and Bruce Stewart affirmed the penalty Baricevic imposed on Williams after Gov. George Ryan commuted his death sentence and all others statewide.

"In order for there to be bias or prejudice, the record must reflect active personal animosity, hostility, ill will or distrust towards the defendant," Goldenhersh wrote.

"In the instance case, defendant has failed to show actual prejudice," he wrote.

"The record shows that Judge Baricevic was patient with this pro se defendant and took extra time answering defendant's questions," he wrote.

"The record here shows that the sentencing judge was thorough and that his decisions were well researched and logical," he wrote.

They rejected Williams's plea for a new trial or 30 years in prison, most of which he has served.

Bushong died at a convenience store in Belleville, on videotape, in 1994.

Her killer covered his head with a garment, but police saw and learned enough to suspect Williams.

When they arrested him, he carried a pistol that an examiner would identify as the murder weapon.

At trial in 1996, prosecutors called sketchy witnesses with plea bargains on the side.

Williams called state police forensic scientist Thomas Gambee, who testified that his shoes didn't match impressions found at the store.

Jurors convicted Williams of first degree murder, declared him eligible for a death penalty, and found no factors sufficient to preclude it.

The Illinois Supreme Court, taking the case on direct appeal, affirmed the conviction in 2000 but vacated the sentence due to improper instructions on the jury form.

The Justices remanded the case for new sentencing.

In 2003, Ryan issued a commutation order removing the death penalty as a sentencing option.

St. Clair State's Attorney Robert Haida moved for an extended term sentence in 2004, and Baricevic took the case after two St. Clair County judges recused themselves.

Williams moved to bar imposition of an extended term, and Baricevic denied the motion in 2005.

Williams moved for a new trial, and Baricevic denied the motion in 2007.

Williams moved for a substitute judge, alleging prejudice on Baricevic's part.

Baricevic denied the motion in 2008, and denied a motion to reconsider.

At sentencing trial, jurors watched video of the murder and the testimony of store manager Shirley Etherton, who had died since the murder trial.

She testified that she conducted inventory and determined that $77 was missing.

Jurors found Williams eligible for an extended sentence, and Baricevic sentenced him for life.

He found Williams grew up in a bad setting and believed society dumped on him.

He wrote that he would have inclined toward leniency if Williams had entered the store with a baseball bat or had used the gun only to scare Bushong.

He found Williams entered the store with intent to kill the clerk.

He told Williams, "I am not going to sentence you because somebody else gave you the death penalty."

He said, "I do think it's an appropriate factor for me to know."

Williams contested the verdict and the sentence at the Fifth District, to no avail.

Goldenhersh wrote that the Supreme Court found sufficient evidence for conviction in 2000.

"It is clear from the record that the sentencing judge believed the sentence of natural life imprisonment was necessary to deter others," he wrote.

On March 9, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a bill repealing the state's death penalty act.

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