In a surprise twist, Cook County prosecutors charged Thursday that the killing of Associate Judge Raymond Myles had been hatched weeks ago as a plot to rob his girlfriend, not to target the judge.
At a bond hearing for the first suspect charged in the shooting, prosecutors said the gunman had been tracking the movements of Myles’ girlfriend for two to three weeks to learn her schedule.
Joshua T. Smith, identified by authorities as the getaway driver, gave a videotaped statement to detectives in which he said his partner decided to lay in wait for the girlfriend before 5 a.m. Monday after observing she regularly left the judge’s Far South Side house to work out early in the morning, according to prosecutors.
The gunman confronted the woman by the back garage of the judge’s two-story brick residence, shooting her in the left thigh and snatching her gym bag. Apparently hearing the gunfire, Myles, 66, emerged on the rear porch and confronted the gunman. He was shot fives times and killed. His girlfriend, 52, is expected to survive.
Smith, who said he stayed in the getaway car in the alley behind the judge’s house in the West Chesterfield neighborhood, told detectives he heard gunshots, then picked up the gunman and drove off.
The gunman fled with only the woman’s gym bag but tossed it away in anger when he discovered it contained no money, prosecutors said.
Police are still seeking the gunman and are investigating a possible third participant, according to law enforcement sources.
Smith, who drove a car owned by his former girlfriend, told her and her daughter to lie to police and claim that the car had been stolen in an effort to throw off police, according to prosecutors.
Smith, 37, dressed all in black, was ordered held without bond during a hearing Thursday at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, the same courthouse where Myles had worked for years and won respect as hardworking and friendly. Spectators packed the courtroom, many standing to be able to witness the hearing.
To avoid a conflict of interest because of Myles’ nearly two decades on the bench, Robert A. Miller, a judge from DuPage County, traveled to the courthouse on Chicago’s Southwest Side to handle the bond hearing.
“This defendant agreed with another person to rob a female,” Miller said in ordering Smith to be held without bond. “They both set off with the knowledge that the robbery was going to take place with the firearm.”
Smith faces felony charges of first-degree murder and aggravated battery — not armed robbery or attempted murder as well as first reported by the state’s attorney’s office. He also was charged with a misdemeanor count of obstruction of a peace officer for allegedly instructing his ex-girlfriend and her daughter to lie to police for him. Police have said the ex-girlfriend did not know of the robbery plot.
Smith’s family members who attended the bond hearing declined to comment later.
In court, Smith’s lawyer, assistant public defender Kristina Yi, had asked the judge to set a bond, noting that Smith was not alleged to have fired any gunshots and calling the evidence against him circumstantial.
Since his discharge from parole in 2008 after pleading guilty to armed robbery five years before Smith has been “a positive and contributing citizen” who co-owns a small business and has two teenage children, Yi said. She also noted that Smith had voluntarily met with police.
In a statement to reporters after the hearing, Yi noted her admiration for Myles’ reputation as a tough but caring jurist and said his death was a “tragic loss.”
“He believed in the human spirit and potential for change,” she said. “We will diligently carry out our obligations and duty. … Judge Myles would have expected nothing less of us.”
Smith crossed paths with Myles briefly in 2001 when court records show he appeared before the judge on a charge that he did not have proper documents for a vehicle. The charge was later dismissed, according to the records.
The brazen attack on Myles, believed to be the first fatal shooting of a Chicago-area judge in more than three decades, touched off a massive investigation with Chicago police working around the clock since Monday morning.
In court, Assistant State’s Attorney Guy Lisuzzo said surveillance cameras captured a burnt orange Pontiac Sunfire circling the block and the area around Myles’ residence in the 9400 block of South Forest Avenue early Monday. Smith drove the car, while the gunman rode in the passenger seat, he said.
Smith stopped in an alley near Myles’ home, and the gunman exited to await the judge’s girlfriend, according to the prosecutor. Smith allegedly backed up the car some distance.
The two knew that she regularly left the judge’s house early in the morning to go to the gym, Lisuzzo said.
When the girlfriend came out, Smith’s partner confronted her, shooting her in the leg and grabbing her gym bag, Lisuzzo said.
When he exited the house to confront the gunman, Myles was shot twice in the left thigh, once in the shoulder and once in the left hip. He also was grazed by a bullet on his right thigh.
The gunman ran back down the alley and jumped into the Pontiac, and the two fled the scene, Lisuzzo said.
When the gunman realized the bag contained no money, he became upset and tossed it out the car window into a garbage container, according to the prosecutor.
Smith then dropped the other man off and drove the car to his garage, Lisuzzo said. He allegedly told his ex-girlfriend and her daughter to tell police the car had been stolen.
At a Wednesday evening news conference at police headquarters following Smith’s arrest, Chief of Detectives Melissa Staples said video surveillance in the area of the judge’s home played a crucial role in identifying the getaway car used in the attempted holdup and its license plate. The cameras did not capture the shooting itself, however, she said.
There had been a push recently to get cameras installed throughout the neighborhood — an effort that the judge had joined in.
Tactical officers found the getaway car in the Calumet Police District on the city’s Far South Side on Tuesday night, even though its license plate had been switched since the shooting in an attempt to “hinder our investigative efforts,” Staples said. The officers noticed the car had different plates on the front and rear, she said.
Staples told reporters that the shell casings found outside the judge’s home matched those retrieved at the scene of an attempted armed robbery and shooting in the Englewood neighborhood in January.
A man, who police sources say has gang affiliations and a long arrest record, was shot and wounded in that incident. But aside from the ballistics evidence, Staples said the two shootings don’t appear to be linked. Police said that guns used in Chicago shootings often change hands and that the victim of the January holdup attempt was not cooperating.