Not guilty: Two Chicago men charged with 2020 murder on the Wabash Bridge walk free

In a frame from video released by Chicago police, a man identified as Charles James is seen extending his arm at bottom center. | Chicago Police Department

CHICAGO — In the steamy summer of 2020, months that were full of violence and social unrest, one of the highest-profile crimes was a murder that occurred on the Wabash Avenue bridge, steps from the Trump Tower.

Chicago police released surveillance video of the shooting, resulting in two men being charged with first-degree murder.

Two weeks ago, a judge found one of them not guilty in a bench trial. Prosecutors also dropped all charges against the second man. And a third man authorities identified as a shooter in the case has never been charged.

Curious to know how a case that prosecutors said included video evidence of both accused men at the scene could end without a conviction, we ordered a transcript of the court hearing in which Judge Carol Howard handed down her finding.

The crime

In the video of the shooting, several Chicago police cars were seen stationed in the background, sitting on Wacker Drive with their blue lights flashing in an unsuccessful effort to keep a lid on things as the city’s violence boiled over. For two hours before the shooting, police responded to a series of disturbances and complaints about large groups of people congregating and partying near Trump Tower and along Wacker Drive between Michigan Avenue and State Street.

The video shows many people walking back and forth on the bridge around 2:35 a.m. One pulls out a gun and starts shooting toward the traffic lanes. Officials said a second man in the video also fired shots.

People dove to the bridge deck, ducked, and ran from the scene.

Gregory P. Crawford, 35, was killed, and a 25-year-old woman was injured.

Charges filed

Nearly six months after the shooting, prosecutors filed murder charges against Charles James. They said he was the second gunman who pulled out a weapon and fired shots.

Six months later, they filed murder charges against Deandre Lewis, 25. Officials never accused him of firing a gun. Instead, they alleged, as the intended target hid behind cars, Lewis pointed toward the man and encouraged others to shoot him.

Prosecutors said he and James were part of a group wandering around near Trump Tower when the still-uncharged man confronted a 27-year-old man near the bridge.

A video that authorities did not release to the public showed the 27-year-old ducking behind cars as he tried to get away from the group, prosecutors said in 2021. Passengers in a passing car saw the man hiding and stopped to ask if he was okay.

Prosecutors claimed that the man told passersby that James and others in the group were going to shoot him.

When one of the passengers opened their door to let the man inside, the uncharged gunman began shooting at the car.

Bullets pierced the vehicle’s windshield, striking Crawford in the neck and hitting a woman twice in her left arm, according to prosecutors. The car’s driver sped from the scene, and the man who was allegedly targeted by the shooters fled on foot without injuries. James and the other gunman allegedly got into a car and left the area.

But exactly what James did during those critical moments is not as straightforward as the state made it out to be, Judge Howard found.

Not guilty

At one point during the video that police released to the public, investigators froze the footage. A big red arrow with the words “second subject with weapon” appeared, pointing directly at James’ hand.

This story is made possible by contributions to the Cook County Courtroom Transparency Fund.

As the uncharged gunman shot from down the bridge, James placed a Remy Martin bottle he was holding on a bridge girder and pulled out an object that he pointed toward the bridge, Judge Howard found. But she was not convinced that the object was a firearm.

The man identified as Charles James is seen holding an object on the Wabash Bridge in video released by the Chicago Police Department.

“There is no indication or solid proof that the object pointed toward the street was a gun or that he fired it because no fired shell casings were found in the area where he was standing and no guns were recovered,” Howard said during the August 9 court hearing.

But investigators did find five shell casings from where the still-uncharged man fired.

“Based on the careful review of the evidence, the [police surveillance] video, and all of the video evidence submitted to the Court, as well as the testimony of witnesses, this Court finds that the State has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Charles James is accountable for the actions of the person believed to be [the uncharged man],” Howard continued.

She said there was no evidence that James conspired to participate in the shooting or even that he fired any shots.

“I am not finding that Defendant James is innocent, but I am finding based on the record in front of me that I cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty of first-degree murder or [the other charges he faced],” Howard said, according to the court hearing transcript.

On the same day Howard issued her finding, prosecutors dropped all charges against Deandre Lewis, court records show.

Uncharged man

Authorities believe they have identified another man seen firing a gun on the bridge. Howard referred to him by name several times during her finding, but we are not identifying him by name because he has never been charged with Crawford’s murder.

Court records show the 32-year-old has a Class X armed habitual criminal case pending in Chicago. Last week, while on bail, he was charged with felony manufacture-delivery of cannabis.

He has previous felony convictions for being a felon in possession of a firearm in 2018, unlawful use of a weapon with a prior conviction in 2016, and drug-related cases in 2010, 2009, and 2008, according to court files.

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