The last of four reputed Four Corner Hustler street gang members found responsible for the gruesome burning death of 4-year-old Armon Kendley in March of 2001 was sentenced to prison on Wednesday. Jacky Burks, 25, was found guilty of first degree murder, aggravated arson, and two counts of heinous battery by Criminal Court Judge Dennis Dernbach on March 21. Burks was in court before Dernbach Wednesday at press time to be sentenced for those crimes. If the experience of his co-defendant, Joseph Boyce, is any indication, Burks won’t see the outside of a prison again in this lifetime.
On Monday, Forest Park resident Boyce, 36, who was also found guilty by Dernbach of those same charges back on March 21, was sentenced to a total of 110 years in prison. That sentence included 70 years for his part in Kendley’s death, as well as a pair of 20-year terms for heinous battery in relation to burn injuries suffered by Armon’s great-grandmother, Thelma Abrams, 71, and Armon’s uncle, Javon Binford, 23. All three sentences are to run consecutively. Boyce was also sentenced to a concurrent 20-year term for aggravated arson.
Standing before Judge Dernbach, Boyce offered his condolences to Kendley’s family.
“I’m not a killer,” he was quoted saying in a television news account. “I did not go to the West Side that night to cause any problems. I went there to grieve with my family.”
However, prosecutors say that Boyce and his other defendants were intent on far more than grieving that night.
Boyce’s cousin, Thomas Dean, 24, had been shot to death by competing Vice Lord gang members that morning in the North Austin neighborhood. Prosecutors alleged that the four met outside an Austin school to plan a retaliatory attack on Dean’s killers.
According to Assistant State’s Attorney Andy Vargas, the four collected two beer bottles and tore a handkerchief in two for wicks, then filled the bottles with gasoline, making “Molotov cocktails.”
Vargas said Joseph Boyce threw a firebomb at the rear of the house at 1330 N. Parkside, but the flame went out. However, the 40-ounce Molotov cocktails flung by Burks broke the front window and exploded in the living room.
Burks, said Vargas, then stood by with a gun, intending to shoot the occupants as they left the house.
Instead, 4-year-old Armon Kendley, who had been sleeping in the house, was carried out by his stepfather, Torre Brown. The boy had suffered second and third degree burns over most of his body.
Boyce’s cousin, Michael Boyce, now 25, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in return for a 5-year sentence in 2001. He was paroled from Stateville Correctional Center on March 31. Another alleged Four Corner Hustler, Donnell Hayes (who, according the Illinois Department of Corrections, sports a “4 CH” tattoo on his left forearm) pled guilty to aggravated arson and conspiracy to commit murder in exchange for a 12-year sentence, with a day-for-day reduction for good behavior. He is scheduled to be released from prison in February, 2007.
As he prepared to impose sentence on Boyce on Monday, Dernbach referred to the seemingly endless cycle of violence that has been choking the life out of communities such as Austin.
“Somebody kills somebody and they go out and kill somebody else,” the judge noted, “until the violence reaches an innocent person.”
A deadly month
In fact, March, 2001 was a particularly deadly month for innocent bystanders in the North Austin neighborhood. Besides Armon Kendley’s home, a family of six was forced out of their home in the 1500 block of North Monitor by another fire bomb on March 3. Additionally, two women were injured in the Thomas Dean killing on March 10.
29th Ward Alderman Isaac Carothers, who represents the neighborhood where the arson occurred, said that the Kendley tragedy helped bring attention to the horrendous consequences that stem from gang warfare over drug territory.
“This certainly brought a lot of attention,” Carothers said Wednesday. “It turned the heat up, and rightly so.”
Carothers said he has no sympathy for people who put profit above the rights of innocent citizens, and applauded the, in effect, life sentence Dernbach gave Boyce.
“They deserve tough sentences,” said Carothers.
Turf gang wars
Carothers, who is chairman of Chicago’s Fire and Police Commission, praised the Chicago Police Department for “leading the way” in battling gang activity. In the three years since Armon Kendley’s death, Chicago police, both on their own and in conjunction with state and federal law enforcement agencies, have targeted gang and drug activity in Austin and other West Side neighborhoods. A special tactics squad, called the Narcotics and Gang Intelligence Section (NAGIS), which was formed two years ago, has been particularly successful in identifying and taking down gang drug spots.
Since the fall of 2003, when Chicago police announced their intentions to target open-air drug markets on the West and South sides, they have hit gang activity and drug trafficking with a slew of operations bearing such names as Operation Double Play, Operation Rice, Operation Popcorn, Operation Get Rich, Operation Hole Punch, and the massive federal, state and local Operation Day Trader last May. In Operation Four Money last July, a Four Corner Hustler drug operation just down the street from the site of the Kendley murder, near Parkside and Division was targeted and 16 people arrested and charged with possession and criminal drug conspiracy.
Chicago police also broke a longtime drug operation run by the McMahan brothers in the 5900 block of Chicago Ave., as well as the 100 block of North Waller.
In the meantime, killings continued. The afternoon of May 22, 2003, at LeClaire and Chicago Avenues, one man was shot to death, another survived after being shot 13 times, and a third was shot in the leg. 15th District police said they were “99.9 percent certain” that the shootings were connected to a dispute over drug turf.
Eight days later, a 40-year-old woman sitting with a man in a car in the 5900 block of W. Chicago was shot and killed by an assailant who fired “eight to 10 shots” at her.
In January of 2004, Keith D. Blackwell was shot near Pine and Augusta, then shot again and killed after he drove to West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park. Police theorize that Blackwell, a reputed Mafia Insane Vice Lord, was murdered during a dispute between different factions of the Vice Lords street gang.
That spring, another alleged affiliate of the Four Corner Hustlers and/or Vice Lords, Jermaile Morris, 22, was shot to death on the near South Side. Morris, who had been recently paroled, was living in Oak Park.
In July, Gregory Lowe, 21, and Jamie Thomas, 24, were shot outside an apartment building at 1525 N. Leamington. Both Lowe and Thomas were on parole from Illinois prisons.