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South Side man charged with killing 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins in retaliation for videogame theft

Updated: June 29, 2013 6:27AM

A South Side felon charged with killing baby Jonylah Watkins and wounding her father was ordered held without bail during a hearing in Cook County criminal court on Tuesday.

Koman Willis, of the 7800 block of South St. Lawrence, was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery in connection with the shooting, authorities said. Koman was aiming for the baby’s father - angry because Jonathan Watkins allegedly stole a PlayStation, police said. Jonathan Watkins was about to kiss his daughter as he was changing her diaper in a car parked on the South Side that March day father and daughter were shot, Cook County prosecutors said in court.

Willis surrendered to police Saturday afternoon, accompanied by an attorney, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said.

“He knew we were looking for him,” McCarthy said.

Willis didn’t give police a statement about the March 11 shootings, McCarthy said. Police haven’t recovered the gun or the getaway vehicle, he said.

Authorities said they believe the shootings were in retaliation for Jonylah’s father allegedly burglarizing Willis’ mother’s home. A PlayStation videogame device was among the items stolen, officials said. Jonylah’s father, Jonathan Watkins, probably won’t be charged in the burglary, McCarthy said.

Watkins suffered three bullet wounds. At the time of the shooting, Watkins told the Chicago Sun-Times from his hospital bed that he didn’t know who shot him.

McCarthy said the shots were fired from behind Watkins, who was sitting with Jonylah in his lap in a minivan in the 6500 block of South Maryland.

“He may or may not have seen him,” McCarthy said, adding that police don’t think Willis was trying to hit the baby.

Willis is no stranger to the Cook County courts, records show.

Of the dozens of cases against Willis, most involved drugs. But he also was involved in a wild police chase that led to a three-year prison sentence.

On Nov. 2, 2002, he was driving a Chevy Monte Carlo when police tried to stop him for a traffic violation. He sped from the police and collided with another car in a fiery wreck, records show. Two people in the other car were injured. A year later, Willis pleaded guilty to aggravated assault of an officer, property damage and four counts of aggravated fleeing, records show.

Willis — who is 32 according to court records and 33 according to the police — was a suspect almost from the beginning of the investigation into Jonylah’s killing, McCarthy said.

“For three months, our detectives were out pounding the pavement, interviewing individuals and going back to using that information, which is what ultimately led to a break on the case, which allowed us to charge Mr. Willis today,” he told reporters at the 51st and Wentworth police station during a Monday afternoon news conference.

Chicago Police Lt. Kevin Duffin, who led the investigation, said it took a toll on his detectives.

“We all have our own kids,” Duffin told reporters. “Guys put in an inordinate amount of time on this.”

Detectives located key witnesses last week and that “started the ball rolling,” Duffin said.

McCarthy praised the Rev. Corey Brooks, pastor of the South Side’s New Beginnings Church of Chicago, who served as a bridge between the police and Jonylah’s family.

“Thanks, you did a wonderful job,” Brooks responded at Monday’s news conference.

On Monday, Watkins and his wife, Judy, visited the cemetery where Jonylah was buried, Brooks said.

A bond hearing for Willis is scheduled for noon Tuesday.

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