A Rock Island County judge on Wednesday sentenced Lamaree E. Wilson-Neuleib to 62 years in prison for fatally shooting one man and seriously injuring another in May 2015.
The 19-year-old declined to make a statement before Associate Judge Gregory Chickris sentenced him to 50 years in prison on one count of first-degree murder and 12 years on one count of aggravated battery with a firearm during a lengthy hearing at the Rock Island County Justice Center.
Wilson-Neuleib will have to serve 100 percent of the murder sentence and 85 percent of the aggravated battery sentence, for a total of 60.2 years.
He was found guilty by a Rock Island County jury on Oct. 17 after several days of trial.
Prosecutors argued at trial that Wilson-Neuleib, then 17, fired 11 bullets into the car of Zachary M. Phillips, 18, around 10:30 a.m. May 20, 2015, in the 4600 block of 53rd Street in Moline.
Phillips died from his injuries. His friend and front-seat passenger, Erik Roberson, 21, was seriously injured but survived. A third man, Matthew Merrill, 19, who was in the backseat of the car, was uninjured.
Roberson testified at trial that Wilson-Neuleib had called him earlier that morning to buy marijuana.
Wilson-Neuleib was arrested shortly after the shooting.
He initially pleaded guilty to the charges in October 2015 and was sentenced Nov. 25, 2015, to 50 years in prison on the murder charge and 10 years on the aggravated battery charge.
In May, Associate Judge Norma Kauzlarich allowed Wilson-Neuleib to take back his guilty plea and vacated his sentence after prosecutors said he was not properly informed at the time of his plea that he faced a mandatory 25-year firearms enhancement to his sentence.
Several family and friends gave victim impact statements during Wednesday's sentencing hearing.
Phillips’ mother, Lyndsie McCoy, said a piece of her died the day her son was killed.
“Why would you want to hurt Zac or anyone for that matter?” she asked from the witness stand. ”He would have been your friend.”
McCoy said it took 18 years to raise Phillips, and it took only seconds to end his life.
"He (Wilson-Neuleib) made the decision to kill, murder, to take my son's life," she said.
Phillips’ grandfather, Charlie Phillips, said he hoped Wilson-Neuleib would get the maximum sentence.
“You deserve it,” he said. “I hope you get to think about it every day for the rest of the time you have. I pray that you go to hell and stay there.”
Pam Serra, Phillips’ maternal grandmother, said he was the kind of person who helped his friends and others when they needed it.
On May 20, 2015, he was helping his friend, Roberson, by giving him a ride, Serra said.
“If Zac had known Lamaree, he would have helped him with anything he could,” she said.
Rock Island County State’s Attorney John McGehee recommended a 70-year sentence and pointed to Wilson-Neuleib’s prior criminal history and “violent” acts committed while he was in custody at the Rock Island County Jail and the Mary Davis Detention Home in Galesburg, Illinois.
This was a “well planned out, premeditated action” in which Wilson-Neuleib wore latex gloves during the shooting and burned them and his clothing after the shooting, he said. Wilson-Neuleib also chose the meeting place that morning, McGehee said.
“This is a defendant that needs to go away to prison for a long time to protect the public,” McGehee said. “There has been a lot of information and evidence presented to this court as it relates to his serious, violent nature.”
Nate Nieman, one of Wilson-Neuleib’s attorneys, argued that even if his client received the same sentence he received in November 2015, it would still amount to a defacto life sentence, which is unconstitutional because it does not give the defendant “any opportunity to rehabilitate himself and become a productive member of society.”
Nieman said the law has changed significantly over the past few years because of the “significant amount of scientific research” that has shown that juveniles’ brains are not fully developed, which can affect their decision-making process
“As such, there has been a trend that is advancing very quickly showing greater mercy to defendants who were juveniles themselves at the time that the offense was committed,” he said.
In Wilson-Neuleib’s case, he also suffers from other cognitive development disorders, has a history of substance abuse and was exposed to “some pretty bad things” in his childhood that have affected him, Nieman said.
Chickris agreed with the proposition that “young people’s brains are not yet fully developed.”
The shooting, however, was not something that happened on the “spur of the moment,” he said.
“This was not the type of offense that a young person would have committed out of impetuosity, out of impulse, out of not thinking about the consequences of the action,” Chickris said. “This was planned. The defendant took great, meticulous steps in planning this offense.”
He also said he thought the motive for the shooting was simply because Wilson-Neuleib, whom he described as a “big bravado” guy, didn’t want to pay for marijuana.
McGehee said after Wednesday’s sentencing hearing that he was satisfied with the sentence imposed by Chickris.
“We think that that is a substantial punishment that Mr. Lamaree Wilson is going to have to do,” he said.
When asked if 62 years is enough, McCoy said, “you can never give somebody enough time when somebody dies.”
“I can’t get my son back,” she said. “It doesn’t take the fact away that we all hurt. There’s a lot of emotion that was in that courtroom today. It’s been almost two years, and it’s a long time to continue to go through this over and over again.”