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No-snitch case cracked: Witnesses come forward a year after slaying

The scene crime pictured last year. Robert Tate (top left) collapsed near this black fence 921 N. Avers after he

The scene of the crime, pictured last year. Robert Tate (top left) collapsed near this black fence at 921 N. Avers after he was shot. John Jones (bottom left) has been charged in the murder. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 20, 2011 2:20AM

Robert Tate took the identity of his killer to the grave.

After he was shot on the West Side in April 2010, officers asked the dying 17-year-old to name the gunman.

Police said he responded: “I know. But I ain’t telling you s---.” He died as paramedics tried to save him.

Tate’s decision not to snitch on his shooter dealt a blow to the detectives trying to solve the murder. Even so, Tate will get justice, police said.

On Monday, John Jones, 38, was ordered held without bond on a murder charge after three witnesses identified him as the killer, authorities said.

“Even when we have a victim who isn’t concerned about the prosecution of his own case, we in the police department are still going to follow up, because he may not be the last victim,” said Anthony Riccio, commander of detectives in the Harrison Area.

“We have an obligation to the city to get the shooters off the street,” Riccio said.

Tate’s killing was part of a series of stories in the Chicago Sun-Times that won a 2011 Pulitzer Prize for documenting a “no snitching” culture in the city. The series exposed the difficulty of solving murders and other crimes when witnesses won’t cooperate.

Although police say Tate refused to talk to them, one of his tattoos — “Make Money or Die” — eerily sums up the murder case against Jones.

Jones and Tate were members of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang, police said.

Jones controlled drug sales in the 900 block of North Avers and was allegedly angry at Tate for hurting business there. Tate was selling fake drugs and robbing customers, Riccio said.

On the morning of April 12, 2010, Jones allegedly warned Tate to stay off the block, but Tate didn’t listen to the older gang member.

Tate was hanging out on the block that evening when he spotted Jones and told witnesses: “Uh oh, here it comes!” Riccio said.

Jones allegedly chased Tate and shot him with a 9mm handgun. Tate suffered back and chest wounds, prosecutors said.

Three witnesses ran away before police could talk to them, Riccio said.

Then in April 2011, one of Jones’ associates was arrested on a drug charge in Chicago. He told detectives he saw Jones kill Tate and led police to two other witnesses, Riccio said.

Jones had been arrested on June 23, 2010, on a drug charge — a violation of his parole for a 1994 murder conviction, records show. Jones was sent back to prison to complete his 30-year sentence for the murder.

On Saturday, Jones finished his sentence and was released from Lawrence Correctional Center in southern Illinois. But Chicago homicide detectives were waiting when he walked out of prison and arrested him on a warrant for Tate’s murder.

On Sunday, the three witnesses viewed a lineup and identified Jones as the killer, Riccio said, adding: “He had seconds of freedom.”

Tate’s family could not be reached for comment. Previously, his mother said she couldn’t believe he would refuse to tell police who shot him. Detectives have notified Tate’s relatives about the arrest and they were pleased, Riccio said.

Contributing: Rummana Hussain

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