GALESBURG — Tears, cheers and joy.
That was the immediate reaction to a Knox County jury finding Jonathan Kelly guilty of first-degree murder for the slaying of Jenni McGruder last April.
More cheers followed each guilty verdict read Monday afternoon. When the jury left, the Howe and McGruder families, as well as friends and others present, stood up and gave a round of applause for the 12 jurors who spent 62 minutes finding Kelly guilty on all counts.
The 29-year-old Galesburg man fired three rounds from a .40-caliber pistol during an April 1, 2018, fracas, one of which struck Jenni McGruder, 26, as she walked through a downtown city parking lot about 50 yards away.
"I had my coat over my head and my ears plugged. It was one of those things where you want to hear it, but you don't want to hear it. But as soon as you get the news you are looking for, of course nothing brings her back, but that's when your excitement and what you want out of the situation ... we got it. So that was a good feeling," said Mike McGruder, Jenni's husband, after the verdicts were read.
Kelly was found guilty on all counts — first degree murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm and possession of a weapon by a felon. He now faces at least 45 years and possibly up to life in prison when sentenced May 10.
When asked what he thought the appropriate sentence was, McGruder said, "45 years for a 30-year-old is life if you look at the life expectancy in prison. Even if he got 45, I don't see him coming out of prison alive, but if he can get 90, it's fine. But the life expectancy in prison ... I don't see him coming out alive."
Monday's session consisted of the state's final witnesses. Galesburg police Detective Lane Mings briefly testified about transporting Kelly, along with Knox County Sheriff’s Department personnel, back to Galesburg from South Dakota on June 29, 2018. State’s Attorney John Pepmeyer, in arguing for that testimony to occur Monday, said "evidence of flight which would be evidence of guilt."
Kelly, 29, opted not to testify Monday after the state rested its case.
Closing arguments started in early afternoon, and Assistant State's Attorney Brian Kerr contended Kelly's actions that day were murder.
"If he was shooting a gun at somebody trying to kill them or shooting a gun at somebody and trying to injure them, the fact that he then hits Jenni McGruder and kills her means he is guilty of murder. That is what is called transferred intent," Assistant State's Attorney Brian Kerr argued during his closing statement.
He also pushed back against defense attorney Mike Bianucci's argument that were two shooters that night.
"Not one time did you hear anyone else say that another person was firing that night."
Bianucci argued reasonable doubt was present, arguing about Kelly's white van being driven from the scene. He also cited the testimony of one witness who heard up to six shots when most said they heard only two or three shots.
But prosecutor Andrew Stuckart assailed that notion, saying how one would have to believe multiple assumptions to buy into Bianucci's defense strategy.
"If there was a second shooter, where are they? Nobody sees anyone else but the defendant with a gun that night," he said. "This isn't grassy knoll. There isn't a second shooter ... it's the defendant that did that."