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Boy who watched 1994 murder of brother gets 71 years in prison

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

It was a nightmarish crime that shocked the nation back in 1994 — and little Derrick Lemon was the 8-year-old hero whose heartbreaking story touched millions.

But 16 years after he sat on a phonebook in Cook County Juvenile Court to bravely testify how he’d unsuccessfully struggled to stop two young boys from throwing his 5-year-old brother to his death from a 14th-floor window at the Ida B. Wells housing project, Lemon was back in a courtroom Monday.

This time, Lemon was the villain. Now 24, the fully-grown Lemon is “a very dangerous person,” Judge Thomas Hennelly said, sentencing Lemon to 71 years in prison for murdering his aunt’s boyfriend at a family barbecue in March 2006.

Lemon’s lawyers and family had begged Hennelly for leniency. They asked him to consider the lasting trauma to Lemon of witnessing the headline-grabbing 1994 murder of tiny Eric Morse, who was thrown to his death by two boys — 10 and 11 years old — angry that he’d refused to steal candy for them. Lemon twice tried to hang on to his brother but let go when one of the boys bit his hand. He ran down 14 flights of stairs in a tragic attempt to “catch” Morse.

Hennelly acknowledged that “Few people appear in front of me or in this building that had underwent the severe, horrible experience that he did as an 8-year-old child watching his brother being killed before his very own eyes.”

But he rejected the argument offered by Lemon’s attorney that society had forgotten Lemon, whose family won a $2.175 million settlement from the Chicago Housing Authority for failing to prevent Morse’s death.

“It wasn’t society that directed you to put bullets into Illya Glover,” the judge told Lemon, recounting how Lemon had opened fire after Glover tried to prevent him from choking his aunt, and then, after being charged with murder, threatened witnesses on the eve of his trial.

“It wasn’t society that had you home-invade the witnesses in this case in an attempt to thwart the prosecution,” Hennelly said. “It was you. It was your choices, and it was your decision.”

Lemon, who dropped out of high school and was convicted by a jury in July last year, killed Glover at the barbecue in the 400 block of West 57th Street “the way someone would just swat an insect, without any remorse, without any thought whatsoever,” the judge said.

He noted Lemon’s long history of violence and trouble with the law.

“You have a hair-trigger temper,” the judge told him. “You lash out brutally and viciously at anyone who gets in your way.”

He told Lemon that the trauma he faced as a child saved him from an even longer sentence, but didn’t excuse his acts. Other people “go on with their lives” after experiencing tragedy, Hennelly said, adding that a rough childhood “doesn’t give someone carte blanche to act like a bully and a brute and act like he’s above the law.”

He gave Lemon 46 years for first-degree murder and added another 25 years, to be served consecutively, for fatally discharging a firearm. The sentence will have to be served in full, meaning Lemon, who has spent a little over a year in custody awaiting trial, won’t be eligible for release until 2081, when he would be 94 years old.

Lemon’s aunt Karen Morse, who helped raise him, maintained Lemon’s innocence Monday, calling the sentence “harsh.” Her nephew “went through a very hard ordeal as a young boy that he will never get over,” she said.

But Glover’s family had demanded a tough sentence and were pleased that’s what Lemon got.

“This sentence has been five years coming,” Glover’s sister Gail said. “Our mother didn’t live long enough to see it, but hopefully we can move on with our lives.”

Though her family was upset that Lemon and his family never apologized, she added, “He’s a victim, too.”

The settlement that Lemon’s family won from the CHA “only made a bad kid worse,” she said.

“He could have used that money to get help,” Gail Glover said. “Instead, he was driving lavish cars, throwing wild parties and thinking he was above the law...In a way, society did forget him.”

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