Man with Record of 38 Arrests Charged in Fatal Shooting of Chicago Infant

Jonylah and dad, Jonathan Watkins

Six-month-old Jonylah Watkins, whose shooting death in Chicago shocked the nation, was killed over a stolen video game console, Chicago police announced yesterday as they charged Koman Willis, 33, with the murder of the infant.

Police said Willis shot the baby and her father Jonathan Watkins, 29, as they sat in a parked minivan on March 11. Police determined that Willis targeted Watkins after discovering that the baby’s father had likely stolen a video game from Willis’ Chatham apartment.

Police said Willis fired a bullet into Jonylah’s right shoulder that traveled down through her left thigh, leading to her death the following day. Her father survived multiple gunshot wounds.

Willis turned himself in to police Saturday, accompanied by his attorney.

“Mr. Willis has been a suspect for a very long time,” Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said. “The question was whether or not we could show it in a court of law.”

Law enforcement sources told the Chicago Tribune that the trouble started when a gaming system was stolen from Willis’ apartment and sold to someone else in the neighborhood. 

When the new owner hooked up the system at home and saw that it belonged to Willis, who was known in the neighborhood and has 38 arrests dating back to 1996, he returned the game console to Willis and told him the nickname of the person he bought it from. That led Willis to open fire on Watkins’ minivan as he sat with Jonylah in the front seat, police said.

While authorities early on identified Willis as a possible suspect in the case, they did not have enough evidence to charge him until detectives persuaded several witnesses to fully cooperate with the investigation last week, police said.

Willis, who is expected to appear in bond court today, has a record that includes aggravated assault of a police officer from a 2002 incident in which he was sentenced to three years in the Illinois Department of Corrections; a 2007 conviction for drugs for which he was sentenced to one year in prison; and a conviction for a 2005 drug charge for which he received a year’s imprisonment. He also has a 1998 weapons charge for which he received probation.

Koman Willis

Though McCarthy initially suggested the shooting was gang-related because of Watkins’ criminal history and his inclusion in a gang database maintained by the police department, the superintendent backed off from the gang connection.

“We believe that the motivation was burglary,” McCarthy said. “Sometimes it’s hard to separate that out. You’ve got two gang members involved in a shooting, you naturally assume that it was gang-related. But sometimes it’s over a girl; sometimes it’s over narcotics. It could be over anything.”

Family spokesman Rev. Corey Brooks said the family spent Monday morning at their daughter’s grave and had prayed for her killer’s arrest since March. He said the father, Jonathan Watkins, will make a public statement today.

“They are very grateful and thankful,” Brooks said of family members. “Hopefully they will be able to put this part behind them and go forward.”


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