URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — A courtroom in Urbana erupted into chaos on Wednesday after a teenager was sentenced for his role in a Champaign murder that happened in the fall.
About 30 spectators were in the courtroom to see Thomas Woodson, 17, be sentenced in connection to the murder of 18-year-old Nizeri Carter the night of Nov. 4, 2022. Judge Randy Rosenbaum decided on 10 years in prison, which was met with outrage from the friends and family of both Carter and Woodson.
Carter’s mother had wanted the maximum 15 years in prison and viewed the sentence as too light. Woodson’s family and friends wanted less than eight-and-a-half years and viewed the sentence as too harsh.
The unfolding chaos prompted Rosembaum to retreat to the safety of his chambers. There were 10 security officers in the room, plus four Champaign Police detectives watching the proceedings. They tried, but failed, to restore order.
The crowd eventually moved out of the courtroom and into the hallway, the noise even interrupting a murder trial in the courtroom next door. Security officers remained with the crowd, trying to prevent anyone from getting hurt, as it moved outside and onto Main Street. Urbana Police officers then joined in the effort to calm people down and prevent them from being hit by traffic that was slowing down to watch what was happening.
Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Reitz said the situation was eventually resolved without injury or arrest.
Woodson’s chaotic sentencing comes at the end of a court case that saw him plead guilty to aggravated discharge of a firearm. In exchange, the state did not pursue murder charges.
Champaign Police detectives testified that their investigation determined Woodson and Keshawn Brown, 18, confronted Carter because she had stolen Brown’s girlfriend. Evidence indicated that Brown was the one who fired the shot that killed Carter; Woodson also fired his gun in Carter’s direction, but the gun jammed and the bullet never fired.
Woodson fled the Champaign area after the shooting but was caught in Atlanta, Ga. seven weeks later. Brown, caught at the end of November, is due in court next month to face a first-degree murder charge. If convicted, he faces 45 years to life in prison.
Evidence also indicated that the two had only started to hang out a few months earlier following the death of a mutual friend. That friend, 18-year-old Prentiss Jackson, died in a shooting the previous June during a “pop-up party” at a gas station in Champaign.
Woodson’s attorney tried to paint him as having fallen under the bad influence of Brown, who detectives testified was a gang member. She recommended time served and either probation or boot camp.
But detectives testified that Woodson’s Facebook page showed photos of him with guns prior to and after Carter’s death. Assistant State’s Attorney Kristin Alferink added that at the time of the shooting, he was on probation for possession of a weapon. She recommended a sentence of 13 years in prison.
Before announcing his sentencing, Rosenbaum said it was clear that Carter’s death was not the first experience Woodson had with guns. He also said that he had to consider a number of factors in imposing his sentence, including age, degree of participation and level of planning.
Woodson also apologized on the stand, but his words has little impact on Carter’s mother, who wanted the maximum 15-year sentence.
In the end, Rosenbaum sentenced Woodson to 10 years in prison, sparking anger and unrest in the courtroom for the light or harsh sentence, depending on who’s asked.