1 charged in girl's slaying

Alleged member of gang being held without bail

By Jeff Coen and Tonya Maxwell, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporter David Heinzmann and Gary Washburn contributed to this report
Published March 15, 2006

Siretha White was an unintended victim of gang warfare, authorities confirmed Tuesday, saying the 10-year-old girl was felled by a stray bullet when an alleged gang member fired a burst of shots from a car toward rivals hanging out on her aunt's porch.

Moses Phillips, 19, of the 6200 block of South Honore Street, described by police and prosecutors as a known member of the Black P Stones street gang, was charged with first-degree murder and ordered held without bail Tuesday.

Authorities said one of the seven rounds Phillips allegedly fired Saturday night came through the window of the house in the 2000 block of West 70th Place and hit Siretha in the head during a surprise birthday party held for her. She would have turned 11 on Monday.

The shooting has reverberated across Chicago this week, coming just days after another Englewood girl, 14-year-old Starkesia Reed, was killed by stray gunfire March 3.

Assistant State's Atty. Maria McCarthy told Judge Laura Sullivan that the events leading up to Siretha's death started with a shooting earlier Saturday afternoon. Phillips, who was in a car at the time, allegedly fired 14 shots at three men in an alley in the 1500 block of West 66th Street about 2 p.m. Saturday, hitting none of them.

 

Phillips and Paree Jones, 25, of the 5600 block of South Wabash Avenue, the alleged driver of the car, were charged Monday with attempted murder in that case. Jones was ordered held in lieu of $1 million bail.

McCarthy said that about 9 p.m. on Saturday, the same three men, described by authorities as Gangster Disciples members, were on the porch of the house where the birthday party was taking place. This time, two cars pulled up, she said, with Phillips the passenger in the first one.

"Phillips rolled down the window, pointed a 9 mm gun at the men on the porch and began shooting at the people on the porch," McCarthy told the judge. One of those men, who had children who were attending the party, was grazed in the chin.

"Siretha Woods was in the front room of the home, and was struck in the back of the head by one of the bullets fired from the defendant's gun," McCarthy said. "That bullet lodged inside of Siretha's head."

 

McCarthy said the case is built on the eyewitness accounts from three of the men Phillips allegedly shot at and from a fourth man who was on the porch. All are members of the Gangster Disciples, a rival gang to the Black P Stones, she said.

Defense lawyer Sam Adam Jr. said that should introduce doubt into whether Phillips actually is the shooter.

"It's my belief he was simply placed there by rival gang members who simply have an ax to grind," Adam said. "It was not Moses who did this."

Adam offered the judge no mitigation at the hearing, saying he would reserve the presentation of evidence for a later time. But after the hearing, he said Phillips was at home with his mother when the shooting took place.

On Tuesday, Phillips' mother said her son was in the house with her as she watched a movie the night of the shooting. Felicia Phillips said her son is not a gang member. She said that he is being blamed for the shooting by men who are gang members and who do not like him.

"It was 9:15 at night," she said, doubting eyewitnesses could identify the shooter. "If they can see who was shooting at them, they really got some good eyes."

Felicia Phillips said her son has been taking classes at home and is interested in things all 19-year-olds enjoy, such as video games and basketball. He's never been violent, she said.

"We've got a lot of kids in the family. He's got cousins, nieces, nephews. He's not going to do something like that to kids," she said.

She added that police searched the house but took nothing.

Phillips' lawyer also pointed to a news conference earlier in the day called by a South Side woman who claimed to have prior knowledge of the shooting.

"She knew about this, she had personal knowledge of who did this, and it was not my client," Adam said. "This is a case where the perpetrator needs to be brought to justice."

The woman, Kim Allen, came forward Tuesday and claimed that she was "an accomplice" in the murder because she had information about the crime before it happened and did nothing to stop it.

In an emotional statement at a news conference outside her home, she described her troubled past--gang involvement, drug dealing, two prison terms and homelessness.

"Today I stand here in shame and disgust at myself for the recent murder of Siretha White," Allen said.

"I didn't pull the trigger," she said. "I knew about it."

Investigators were skeptical of the story, but took her into the Wentworth Area for questioning before deciding her account did not substantively contradict evidence that Phillips was the shooter.

She was released late Tuesday.

Prosecutors said physical evidence does corroborate some of the statements given by the men Phillips allegedly shot at twice on Saturday. Ballistics testing has determined the same gun fired 14 rounds at the men in the alley, and seven as they sat on the porch.

McCarthy said Phillips and Jones each have criminal records.

Phillips has a pending case of unlawful use of a weapon from an incident in September when a gun was allegedly found in a car in which he was a passenger. He is due in court Wednesday on that case.

Jones is on probation in a drug case out of LaSalle County, McCarthy said. He was convicted of aggravated vehicular hijacking in 2000 and sentenced to 9 years in prison. Jones was paroled in September 2003, according to state records.

As police announced charges in the case Tuesday, the department also announced a community march Saturday down Ashland Avenue between 66th and 69th Streets. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is expected to take part, along with local clergy.

Daley believes such public demonstrations are effective in motivating people on the sidelines to help stop violence in the community, said Jacquelyn Heard, the mayor's press secretary.

"When you're marching, people see how many are there," Heard said. "And those who may not have joined in lose their fear and the march grows as it goes."