A Columbus, Ohio, woman admitted Friday that she fired a gun while robbing 15-year-old Jescie J. Armstrong of marijuana in April 2016.
However, Rock Island County prosecutors say there is reasonable doubt as to whether it was Chelsea M. Raker or co-defendant Kire G. Carr who actually fired the shot that killed the teenager at his Rock Island home.
Raker, 22, who initially faced two counts of first-degree murder in Armstrong’s death, instead pleaded guilty to armed robbery during a plea hearing lasting less than 15 minutes at the Rock Island County Justice Center.
The charge, a Class X felony, typically carries a sentence of six to 30 years in prison, but because a firearm was involved, the sentencing range is 26 to 50 years in prison.
As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors will cap the maximum sentence at 45 years. She must serve 85 percent of the sentence before she can be considered for parole.
Prosecutors also will dismiss the murder charges and an additional charge of aiding a fugitive to flee when she is sentenced Jan. 17.
Raker, dressed in a yellow jail jumpsuit and cuffed at the ankles, softly answered “yes, ma’am” as Judge Norma Kauzalrich questioned her about her guilty plea during Friday's hearing.
When the judge asked her if she had been “tricked” or promised anything for her plea, she said, “It’s my understanding that my other charges will be dropped."
McGehee said after the hearing that he will recommend a sentence at the high end of the sentencing range for Raker.
Dora Villarreal, one of Raker’s defense attorneys, requested that she undergo a psychological evaluation for the purposes of mitigation at sentencing.
She said there is no doubt as to Raker’s fitness to plead guilty to the charge.
Defendants can present mitigating factors or evidence at sentencing to show reasons as to why they should be given a lesser sentence.
Kauzalrich granted the request.
Raker’s jury trial was slated to begin Monday.
Rock Island police were dispatched just before 2 p.m. April 27, 2016, to the 500 block of 20th Avenue after receiving a report of shots fired inside a home.
Officers found Armstrong with a gunshot wound to the head. He later died at Trinity Rock Island.
According to the factual basis read by Rock Island County State’s Attorney John McGehee at Raker's plea hearing:
Raker, Carr and co-defendant Trey B. Gustafson went to Armstrong’s home to buy about $150 worth of marijuana.
Gustafson went into a separate room of the home and could not provide an eyewitness account of the shooting.
During the drug deal, Carr pulled a handgun from inside his clothing, thereby threatening the imminent use of force to take the marijuana without paying.
A physical fight ensued between Carr and Armstrong and they went to the floor. Raker was standing right next to where the two were fighting.
A teen who is friends with Carr had come along to Armstrong’s house but remained in the car outside during the drug deal and shooting.
The teen said he saw Raker with a gun in her possession immediately before going into the house.
Armstrong’s brother, Mark Snyder, was also at the house at the time of the shooting and was in close proximity to the fight.
He could not provide an eyewitness account of whether it was Raker or Carr who shot his brother, which created reasonable doubt as to who was the actual shooter.
The incident unfolded very quickly, Snyder said.
Carr later provided a statement that Raker had a separate firearm from him and that she fired it during the robbery. After the shooting, Raker, Carr and Gustafson left the home with the marijuana.
Raker, Carr and his teen friend drove to an apartment in Columbus, Ohio, where they were located the following day.
Police recovered two handguns from the apartment, according to the factual basis.
Carr, 19, of Rock Island, was immediately taken into custody. Raker was arrested in May 2016 in Georgia.
Gustafson was charged in July 2016.
Carr is charged with four counts of first-degree murder. In August, he agreed to testify against Raker and will plead guilty to felony murder in exchange for a 20-year prison sentence.
He will have to serve 100 percent of the sentence.
A formal plea hearing has not yet been set. Carr will be back in court Nov. 9 for a status hearing.
Gustafson, 20, of Rock Island, who was shot in the buttocks during the incident, is charged with one count of first-degree murder. He has a status hearing Oct. 27.