Two facing robbery charges plead not guilty, make first appearances with specially appointed public defenders


At left, Barney Bier and Tristian Johnson. At right, Casey Schnack and Fallon Gillum. | David Adam

QUINCY — A man and a woman facing robbery charges in connection to the October shooting death of a teenage girl were arraigned Wednesday morning and pled not guilty.

Tristian L. Johnson, 23, of Quincy and Fallon M. Gillum, 20, of Quincy were in Adams County Circuit Court before Judge Robert Adrian. They appeared for the first time with their specially appointed public defenders — Johnson with former Adams County State’s Attorney Barney Bier, and Gillum with Casey Schnack of the Schnack Law Office. 

Both defendants are scheduled to appear in court for a status hearing on Jan. 3. Both cases are on the February 2024 jury docket.

Both defendants 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 Nov. 21 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.

Assistant State’s Attorney Josh Jones previously said Mackenzie Bullard, 16, 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. Bullard, a student in the Quincy School District, was found dead in the early morning of Oct. 11 in a home on the 400 block of Scenic Drive.

“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 during Johnson’s first appearance last week. “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.”

Bier filed Tuesday a motion in limine, which allows litigators to seek to exclude certain evidence from being presented to a jury. Often it is evidence considered irrelevant, unreliable or more prejudicial than probative.

“The State’s Attorney’s Office has made statements in court and out of court to the press expressing frustration that, according to the perception of the facts at some time in the past, they could have charged (Johnson) with murder, and that there is a 16-year-old girl who is dead, and the state will not be able to hold anyone accountable,” the motion read.

“Whether or not the state believes that sometime in the past that the state could have pursued more serious charges is not relevant to the charges herein, or any proceeding before the court, are not referenced in any potential jury instructions and, by the making of such statements in court or out of court, prejudices the defendant and puts in jeopardy his ability to receive due process and a fair trial.”

Bier’s motion asks the court to prohibit further similar statements.

Bier also filed a motion to dismiss amended information filed Nov. 21 for “failure to state a cause of action.” The motion reads, “To sustain the charge of the offense of attempted armed robbery and attempted robbery, the state must allege ‘the intent to commit a specific offense’ and must also allege ‘an overt act constituting a substantial step toward the commission of that specific offense.”

Bier contends counts 3 and 4 (the attempted robberies) of the amended information fails to state a cause of action, in that neither count alleges an overt act toward the commission of the offense. He contends count 3 specifically does not allege the defendant possessed a firearm. He said counts 1 and 2 (the conspiracy to commit robberies) fail to state a cause of action in that neither count alleges any overt act by either the defendant, co-defendant or others named in the alleged conspiracy.

Bier’s motion asks the court to dismiss the amended information and release Johnson from custody and order the state to amend the charges to state a cause of action.

Both motions will be heard Dec. 12.

Adrian has denied pretrial release for Johnson and 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. 

Adrian selected Bier and Schnack to represent Johnson and Gillum 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.

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.

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

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

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