As reporters, there are some stories that just stick with us through the years. For WGN’s Tonya Francisco, it was the story of Yummy Sandifer, a young man who at 11 years old had a rap sheet longer than most adults. He died violently in a gangland execution by 14- and 16-year-old brothers.
Now, for the first time, we hear from both of those brothers about that fateful night, what they’ve learned and their hopes for the future.
At 36, Cragg Hardaway is older, wiser and also a little nervous when it comes to the interview.
Twenty years after a notorious murder that thrust him into the national spotlight, he and his younger brother Derrick are talking about the case that changed their lives forever.
“It took me years to admit and accept my role in it,” Derrick said.
It was an unusually chilly September night in 1994 when Yummy was shot twice in the back of the head in a hit ordered by leaders of the Black Disciples.
Cragg was only 16 years old when his mugshot was plastered on TV when he arrested for the murder of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer.
Cragg’s brother Derrick, who was 14 at the time, was too young for his mug shot to be released. He was convicted of driving the getaway car.
Cragg, Derrick and Yummy were all members of the same gang, the Black Disciples. And all three would eventually learn that membership in a street gang comes at a high price.
Chicago recorded 930 homicides in 1994, the second highest on record. Among the dead was 14-year-old Shavon Dean, who shot in the head by a stray bullet during a shooting spree in the city’s Roseland neighborhood that injured two other teens.
Chicago police quickly identified 11-year-old Yummy as the gunman. Gang leaders decided Yummy needed to be silenced because he knew too much. So they ordered Cragg to kill him.
Derrick refused to leave his brother’s side.
“A lot of people don’t know that he actually took me home,” Derrick said. “And I could just feel something wasn’t right, so when I asked him, ‘What’s going on,’ he told me everything. I refused to let him go by himself.”
“I should have been more of a big brother,” Cragg said. “But at the time, that ain’t the way you think.”
After the murder, both brothers were in custody, and months later, they were convicted felons: Cragg got 60 years for murder and Derrick got 45 for driving the getaway car. They were the only two ever tried in the case even though they say others were involved.
Abandoned by their fellow gang members and isolated from their families, the brothers have spent the past 20 years rehabilitating themselves. Both have gotten their GEDs and associate degrees. Derrick is cultivating his landscaping skills by working in the prison garden and Cragg is involved in anti-violence programs.
But for Cragg, there’s one piece of unfinished business: Reaching out to Yummy’s family, who has not responded to him or WGN.
“I’ll answer any questions that they may have, concerning that night, leading up to that night,” Cragg said.
Both brothers say they think about Yummy’s murder every day. The tears, they say, have long since dried up. Instead, they are focused on getting out one day and making sure others don’t end up on the same path that led them to prison.
“I know most people will listen to this and be like, ‘What the hell does this dude know, he been in jail for 20 years, he shouldn’t have did what he did,’” Cragg said. “That still don’t take away from the message: Value your life, you matter, looking in the mirror and tell yourself that you matter.”
Derrick is eligible for parole in 2016. Cragg will be eligible in 2024. Neither brother plans to return to the Roseland neighborhood where they grew up, for fear they could be drawn back into a lifestyle that Derrick says will only lead them back to prison — or to a grave.