On a warm Saturday night in June 2020, Kenderic Artis shot a man outside a bar in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, an area that was seeing more and more violent crime that officials linked to the local nightlife scene.
Chicago police arrested Artis almost immediately. He spent the next year in Cook County jail, held without bail as seven felony charges, including five counts of attempted murder, hung over his head. When a judge finally allowed him to post bond, Artis spent another 17 months on house arrest with an ankle monitor strapped to his leg.
Last month, four days before Christmas, Cook County prosecutors dropped all felony charges against Artis, 24, and he pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor gun violation. A Cook County judge not known for being a pushover gave him probation.
“He got his life back,” Artis’ defense attorney, David McDermott, said Wednesday.
How Artis got his life back is an incredible story that is as much about the alleged victim — you’re probably familiar with him — as it is about the shooting. The story touches on hot-button Chicago issues like violent crime, gun possession, affordable bail, and whether people accused of murder and attempted murder should be released on electronic monitoring.
It’s also a story about a fundamental American belief that gets lost in sometimes-fiery debates: the presumption of innocence.
Around 10 p.m. on June 28, 2020, Artis and a friend were outside Snickers Bar & Grill, 448 North State, when the alleged victim and another man walked out of the bar, prosecutors said. Artis’ friend, who prosecutors and McDermott agree was intoxicated, tried to buy some pot from the victim’s friend, and some spittle flew from his mouth as he spoke.
The encounter turned physical, and the man who would eventually be shot pulled Artis to the ground by his backpack during the struggle.
Passing Chicago police officers broke it up and sent the parties on their separate ways, but the altercation reignited after the cops left, and more people came out of the bar to confront Artis and his friend, officials said.
“They’re trying to beat and rob Ken and his friend,” McDermott said Wednesday.
Artis, believing that one of the men was reaching into their waistband for a gun, drew a weapon from his backpack and shot the man five times, prosecutors said — three times in his legs and twice in the shoulder. McDermott said Artis was licensed to own firearms in Illinois but did not have a concealed carry license.
During an interview with detectives, Artis admitted that he “pulled out the gun and did fire some shots,” according to prosecutors, saying he “thought that dude was clutching the front of his pants.”
Courtney Smallwood, the assistant public defender who represented Artis during his initial bail hearing, argued that “he thought he was in danger … the victim was reaching into his waistband.”
But self-defense is an issue for the trial court, not the bond hearing, and Judge Mary Marubio held Artis without bail.
For the next year, McDermott’s team filed a series of motions to get Artis’ bail reduced. Finally, in July 2021, a supervising judge ordered Judge Arthur Hill to revisit Artis’ request. Court records show that Artis went home on electronic monitoring after putting up a $5,000 bail deposit.
The following month, the man Artis shot was caught on a sickening viral video, beating and robbing two strangers in the middle of State Street outside Snickers Bar. And Ken Artis’ self-defense claim quickly gained strength.
“We had to fight like hell to get him out of custody … Just to find out this thug has done this to other people,” McDermott said.
The man Ken Artis shot is Mekiel Hampton, a 6-foot, 7-inch, 263-pound man who is now 22 years old. Hampton is well-known to Chicago cops who patrol the State and Hubbard nightlife districts.
And he became well-known to much of Chicago after CWB Chicago published video of two men being viciously attacked and robbed after leaving Snickers bar on August 28, 2021.
In the footage, Hampton, wearing a ski mask and a blue baseball hat, chases one man down and punches him, sending the victim into the side of a passing car. As that man lay in the middle of State Street, Hampton sucker-punched another passerby, sending that man to the pavement, where he remained unconscious as onlookers rifled through the victims’ pockets for valuables and even stole their shoes.
Police tracked Hampton and an accomplice down. Prosecutors charged both men with a host of felonies.
But they never told Artis’ lawyers about it.
Artis’ lawyers came across the video and news reports about Hampton’s arrest on their own.
“The state didn’t give us that video,” McDermott said Wednesday. “They never told us he got charged.”
That footage, McDermott argued, “really, truly supported what Ken said happened.”
Asked about McDermott’s claim that prosecutors failed to provide Artis’ defense with information about Hampton’s arrest, a state’s attorney spokesperson said, “We are looking into this and unable to comment at this time.”
In June, McDermott’s team filed a motion to introduce the video at trial.
Prosecutors argued against the move in August, saying that so-called Lynch motions are limited to a victim’s behavior before a crime, not after. The state also argued that Hampton had not been convicted of anything and might not be guilty.
“Why is it they’re fighting so zealously to keep this information out?” McDermott asked.
But prosecutors quickly ran into trouble. Hampton pleaded guilty two weeks after the state filed its objection to Artis’ motion. And, after much consideration, Judge John Lyke agreed to allow the video in, McDermott said.
Faced with the new reality that they would have to convince jurors to believe the man they see in the video instead of Ken Artis, prosecutors essentially threw in the towel.
‘He got his life back’
On December 21, authorities transported Hampton from his new home in the Shawnee Correctional Center to the courthouse at 26th and California so he could be present for Artis’ plea. He refused to go into the courtroom.
“He is in the back,” prosecutor Kimberly Przekota told Lyke. “I verified this morning that this is how he wants the case resolved. I gave him the opportunity to be physically present in the courtroom for the plea, and he declined.”
Przekota reduced the felony gun charge Artis faced to a misdemeanor count of carrying a firearm and dropped all other charges.
The judge gave Artis a chance to speak before sentencing.
“Just want to say blessings to everybody in the court and Happy Holidays,” Artis replied.
Lyke then sentenced him to two years probation and 50 hours of community service and ordered him to take anger management courses.
Artis hugged Irena Stefanovski, the lawyer who accompanied him to the sentencing.
“He got his life back,” said McDermott.
According to McDermott, he picked up Artis’ case because Artis was a member of the United States Concealed Carry Association, which insures members who are charged with using a firearm in self-defense.