UPDATED 12/29/10 4:57 p.m.
JOLIET, Ill. (CBS/WBBM) — A 69-year-old south suburban man has been sentenced to four years’ probation, after he shot and killed his neighbor for letting a dog urinate on his lawn.
Charles Clements of University Park was sentenced by Judge Daniel Rozak in Will County Court, on a conviction of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Joshua Funches, 23, this past May.
The victim’s family says this is nowhere close to justice.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Mike Krauser reports.
The pair argued, and Funches hit Clements. But Clements followed Funches off his property and shot him. Clements was arrested and initially charged with first-degree murder.
Clements could have been sentenced to 20 years in prison, but instead received the minimum sentence. Judge Rozak said the case was not a matter of a dog urinating on a lawn, but of a young man threatening a much-older man and punching him in the face.
Rozak said the characterization of the case as being primarily about about a dog urinating on a lawn was a “media fabrication.”
When Rozak announced the sentence, an audible gasp of disbelief from Funches’ family members was heard in the courtroom. Clements showed no obvious emotion as the judge read his sentence, but nodded in agreement when the judge made his remarks on what the case was really about.
The judge also said he issued the lenient sentence because of Clements’ age, lack of a prior criminal record or evidently so much as even a speeding ticket, and past service as a U.S. Marine.
Funches’ family members were furious.
Funches’ aunt, Gail Williams, says Clements getting four years probation in the shooting death of her nephew is, in her words, “unbelievable.”
“To walk away with probation, absolutely positively not. This is certainly not justice and that’s all I have to say. This is not justice,” said Williams.
Williams also disagreed with Rozak’s statement that the case had nothing to do with a puppy urinating on the lawn.
“I think the judge was not truthful at all, because that’s exactly what prompted everything,” she said. “Joshua was walking his dog on a leash, minding his own business. Mr. Clements followed Joshua down the street. And those are facts. The judge was not being very honest with that. This is all what it was about.”
Before trial, Clements’ defense attorneys claimed that he acted in self-defense.
They say Clements was known for keeping a beautifully manicured, award-winning lawn. He had been noticing dog droppings on his lawn at a certain time each day. He engaged Funches in conversation about it when the 23-year-old was walking his dog.
Clements’ attorney says Funches became confrontational, letting loose a stream of “profanities and threats,” “vulgarities and threats of violence”, and also swore at Clements’ wife as she backed her car out of the driveway.
Clements said he showed Funches he had a gun, and Funches allegedly yelled, “Old man if you pull a gun on me you better plan on using it,” then punched the great-grandfather in the face, according to the filing.
That’s when Clements shot him in the stomach.
Clements said he blindly fired one shot as he was falling backward.
Funches’ aunt disagrees with that version of events.
“Joshua raised his hands. Mr. Clements pushed his hands down, and then Joshua hit him, all provoked by Mr. Clements, and that is a fact. Look at the court transcripts,” said Williams.
Jurors convicted Clements of second-degree murder in October, concluding that Clements had thought he was acting in self-defense, but that his belief was unreasonable.
“To know that in this day and age, you can follow a person down the street, pull a gun in broad daylight when children are on the street, kill a man and get charged with second-degree murder, and walk out of a courtroom because you’re 70 years of age and because you served in the military,” said Williams.
Funches had two children and a son who was born after his death.
“This was very, very unfair, and this is certainly not justice at all,” said Williams.
The victim’s mother, Patricia Funches, said as he lay dying in the back of an ambulance from a gunshot wound to the abdomen: “I said, ‘Joshua, call on Jesus to help you, because I can’t help you, but call on Jesus,’ and he said, ‘Jesus, Jesus.’ Those were the two last words I heard my son say.”
The shooting happened on Mother’s Day, which Patricia Funches says has now become the worst day of her life.
“He took my baby on Mother’s Day,” she said.
Clements’ attorney says this has been a life-changing occurrence for his client. Dan Rollins says Clements will always be burdened with his actions from that night and is remorseful for what happened. He said he never intended to cause pain or loss for the Funches family.
CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli and Suzanne Le Mignot, and Newsradio 780’s Mike Krauser contributed to this report.