Pretrial release denied for two facing robbery charges; Jones said teen killed was shot in head

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QUINCY — Assistant State’s Attorney Josh Jones said Mackenzie Bullard was shot in the head and killed as the result of an armed robbery during which a group of adults and juveniles allegedly conspired to steal a gun.

Jones revealed that information during status hearings Tuesday afternoon in Adams County Circuit Court for Tristian L. Johnson, 23, of Quincy and Fallon M. Gillum, 20, of Quincy. Both were arrested Nov. 17 on warrants for conspiracy to commit armed robbery, a Class 1 felony, and conspiracy to commit robbery, a Class 3 felony. 

Amended charges filed Tuesday included charges of attempted armed robbery, a Class 1 felony, and attempted robbery, a Class 3 felony. If found guilty, Johnson and Gillum could face sentences for between four and 15 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections for the Class 1 felonies and sentences of between two and five in the Illinois DOC for the Class 3 felonies.

Judge Robert Adrian denied pretrial release for Johnson and Gillum during Tuesday’s hearing. He appointed special public defender Barney Bier to represent Johnson and Casey Schnack of Schnack Law Office to represent Gillum. 

The Adams County Public Defender’s office has not accepted new felony cases since Oct. 10 and won’t accept new cases in November because the department is operating without three attorneys, and the caseloads of current staff members are excessive, according to Todd Nelson, chief public defender. He represented Johnson and Gillum on Tuesday.

Adrian selected Bier and Schnack from a list of attorneys licensed in Illinois. Adams County judges can specially appoint cases to attorneys on that list to help address the shortage in the public defender’s office. The county will pay specially appointed public defenders $125 an hour.

Tristian Johnson looks into the gallery in an Adams County courtroom during a status hearing Tuesday afternoon. | Pool photo by David Adam/Muddy River News

Johnson was the first to appear in court on Tuesday. Jones made similar cases to deny pretrial releases to the defendants.

“Based on the totality of circumstances, the court should find … that this defendant, for the protection of the public, needs to be detained until a trial can be held,” Jones said during Johnson’s hearing. 

“This defendant, along with many other defendants, some of which were juveniles, some of which were adults, actively engaged in, conspired and agreed — not just to commit the offense of armed robbery and robbery, but took a substantial step towards the completion of that offense. This defendant and multiple other co-defendants went into a house with the intent to rob and committed an armed robbery.”

Jones said he was confident to use the term “armed robbery” because he has reviewed a “myriad” of text message and Snapchat messages and saw references to a plan to pistol whip “the boys who were in the house” during the robbery. He did not say who the boys were.

“The court also should consider the fact that as a result of this defendant’s actions and the other co-defendants, a 16-year-old girl was shot and killed,” Jones said. “He did not pull the trigger, admittedly, but under Illinois law three years ago, we would have charged this defendant along with every other co-defendant with first-degree murder. 

“The (Illinois) legislature changed the law over the objection of multiple state’s attorney’s offices, because we said this is what’s going to happen. There’s going to the situation like this, where a 16-year-old girl is going to be dead, and we’re not going to be able to hold people legally responsible for their moral culpability.”

Nelson objected, saying, “I think this is going beyond the scope of the purposes of today’s argument.”

Adrian overruled and allowed Jones to continue.

“The legislature isn’t the one that has to sit down with the families and say, ‘We can’t charge first-degree murder now because of what they did,” Jones said. “The court can consider that in determining the nature and circumstances of the case. … The court has to determine whether or not detention is necessary for the protection of the public because this defendant poses a risk in this defense. 

“They were trying to steal a gun or trying to take a gun from somewhere else. The balance of the argument is clear and convincing that this defendant should be detained until the trial takes place.”

When Jones talked about the attempt to steal a gun, Johnson quietly shook his head while seated at the defense table with Nelson.

In his argument, Nelson said the state believes the cases against Johnson and Gillum should be murder cases.

“Because the legislature has acted as it has, the state is upset with that and essentially wants this to be a murder case,” he said. “The state spent probably half of today’s argument talking about why there should be a murder case, but the statute says, ‘Offense charged.’ What we’re dealing with are the charges of attempted armed robbery and attempted robbery.”

Nelson said text exchanges noted only one reference about pistol whipping. He said Johnson’s criminal record shows four ordinance violations.

“The state has not proven today what they need to prove by clear and convincing evidence,” Nelson said. 

“The first factor (in determining if a defendant should be detained) is the nature and circumstances of the offense charged, and the circumstances of the offense charged is a 16-year-old girl was shot in the head and killed,” Jones said in rebuttal. “That’s the circumstances of the offense charged, that as a result of this attempted armed robbery, a 16-year-old girl is dead.

“I can’t charge first-degree murder, and counsel was right. I am upset about that. But I’m allowed to talk about the circumstances of these deaths charged and what happened in those circumstances.”

Adrian said a pretrial services report for both defendants showed neither has “real prior criminality,” but he chose to keep both lodged in the Adams County Jail. He said the two attempted robbery defenses were “detainable.”

“This was a vast conspiracy amongst several people to commit what the court would consider a violent crime and armed robbery,” Adrian said. “There also was talk of a gun being present, and that gun was stolen. Based on all those circumstances, the court believes that for the protection of the public, and because this defendant would pose a threat to the public as well as other persons because of those actions, the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that this defendant should be detained.”

Fallon Gillum is seated next to Chief Public Defender Todd Nelson during a status hearing Tuesday afternoon in an Adams County courtroom. | Pool photo by David Adam/Muddy River News

When Jones made similar statements in Gillum’s case, Nelson said the state argued in “very general terms” about a plan to steal a gun and pistol whip someone.

“The state has not argued what specifically Ms. Gillum did that would arise to this level of dangerousness,” Nelson argued. “There is nothing in her criminal history that would suggest that she is dangerous. In fact, she has absolutely no history, not even a traffic ticket.”

Jones said he was limited in what he could say because members of the local media recorded all comments made during the hearing and could publish them to a potential jury pool.

“I’m certainly not in a position where I’m going to talk about specific facts of the case,” he said. “The court has seen the text messages, and the court knows what text messages I had access to. We can talk about it, but I’m not going to because the court has already seen the text message this defendant sent, what this defendant has access to and what this defendant has received. 

“We can talk about them specifically, but there’s a time and place for it. Today is not that day.”

Johnson and Gillum are scheduled to be arraigned on Nov. 29.

Three Quincy juveniles also were arrested Oct. 17 on warrants for conspiracy to commit armed robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery. They are lodged in the Adams County Juvenile Detention Center.

As Adrian read the amended charging document during Tuesday’s hearing, he said Demarco P. Smith and three other juveniles also took part in the “commission of the offenses” of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.

Asked if the Quincy Police Department is actively looking for Smith and three more juveniles, both Jones and Quincy Police Chief Adam Yates said Tuesday they could not answer the question. Yates said Monday he anticipates more arrests.

Neither the Adams County Coroner’s Office nor the Quincy Police Department are releasing the victim’s name. However, Muddy River News has confirmed the victim was Bullard, 16, a student in the Quincy School District.

The Quincy/Adams County 911 Center received a call of suspicious circumstances in the 400 block of Gardner Park Drive at 4:15 a.m. Oct. 11. About that same time, another call came in from the 400 block of Scenic Drive reporting someone had been shot. When officers arrived on scene, they found Bullard dead inside a residence.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Johnson’s name was incorrect in a previous version of this story.

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