Lake County State's Attorney defends charging Chicago teens with murder

The Lake County State’s Attorney on Thursday defended his decision to charge five Chicago teens with murder after a homeowner fatally shot one of the teen’s alleged accomplices in an alleged burglary.

In a statement, State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim said the teens “were solely responsible for placing the now-deceased 14-year-old offender in danger. They are ultimately responsible for his death.”

Nerheim’s statement comes after his office was criticized for charging the teens Wednesday with first-degree murder in a case where officials agreed that the teens did not directly cause the death.

Nerheim said Illinois law allows authorities to hold offenders accountable for any foreseeable deaths that occur during a “forcible felony,” which he said the teens were doing when they approached a 75-year-old homeowner with a knife early Tuesday in north suburban Old Mill Creek.

The homeowner, a licensed gun owner, told investigators he saw one of the teens with a 10-inch blade, and fired several shots at them to scare them off, prosecutors said.

One of the shots struck 14-year-old Jaquan Swopes in the head, authorities said. He died shortly after.

The other teens drove off, leaving Swopes and another teen with a police officer, prosecutors said. The teens led officers on a high-speed pursuit that ended when the Lexus ran out of gas in the West Loop.

Some of the teens told police they ran from officers because they “did not want to go back to jail,” prosecutors said.

Nerheim said he “made the tough decision to charge the offenders with felony murder for their role in this incident, despite knowing there could be a backlash in doing so.

“As we do in every case my office prosecutes, I will continue to evaluate this case and work towards a resolution that is fair to all parties involved, while also fulfilling my obligation to keep our community safe,” Nerheim said. “In doing so, I will consider the facts, circumstances, any mitigating factors, and the ages of the offenders.

“In the interim, however, I believe these charges are appropriate based on all the facts of the case, the degree of responsibility exhibited by each of these offenders, and the Illinois statutes currently available,” Nerheim said.

The teens — identified as Stacey Davis, Curtis Dawson, Diamond Davis, Steven Davis and Kendrick Cooper — are each being held on $1 million bail, according to the Lake County sheriff’s office. They are scheduled to appear in court again Sept. 5.