GALESBURG — As a verbal spat got out of hand at a Galesburg tavern last Easter, Jenni McGruder stuck around long enough to say goodbye to friends she hadn't seen in a while.
It was the last time she'd ever see them. Within minutes, she and another man, Quincy Morrison, were waking up her husband, Mike McGruder, who was sleeping in a car near the now-shuttered Seminary Street Pub, 105 S. Seminary St.
Morrison heard a commotion, turned and heard a shot, and then saw a spark, and heard two more shots as he ducked and ran toward his car.
Mike McGruder said he ducked and ran and then jumped on the ground.
He looked back and saw his 26-year-old wife on the ground.
"I just started yelling for her to get up, and she wasn’t responding," McGruder said. He then dialed 911 for authorities to respond in the early morning hours of April 1, 2018, to the city parking lot that runs behind the first block of South Seminary Street.
While standing near Jenni McGruder, Mike McGruder saw a man run past holding a handgun, smiling at him, "sort of like taunting me with it."
That man was allegedly Jonathan Kelly, 29, who is on trial in Knox County Circuit Court for Jenni McGruder’s death. Morrison and Mike McGruder were among the first witnesses and told jurors their memories of that night.
Testimony started midday Thursday as defense attorney Mike Bianucci tried to throw out the entire jury pool of dozens of potential jurors as he argued there weren't enough African-Americans in the panel. Overall, three of the 54 prospective jurors were African-American, and Bianucci said in court he used a peremptory challenge to strike one of them off, as the woman's family knew the McGruder family.
The panel of 12 had one African-American.
"I just don't believe that's a jury of Mr. Kelly's peers," Bianucci said.
Knox County Assistant State's Attorney Brian Kerr countered with U.S. Census Bureau data and noted Knox County has 8 percent of its approximately 50,000 residents reporting as African-American. The prosecutor noted that having one black juror on the panel is 8.6 percent.
Morrison testified he knew Kelly as "John John" from playing basketball together in a Monmouth-based league and also at the YMCA.
The McGruders and Morrison had earlier been at Sidetrax for a baby shower and to celebrate Jenni McGruder's recent birthday. Mike McGruder elected to sleep in a car because he was "exhausted" while Morrison and Jenni, among others, went into the Seminary Street Pub. There, Morrison said, things got out of hand, which prompted him and Jenni McGruder to leave, but not before she said goodbye to her friends.
Prosecutors contended Kelly opened fire on a crowd of people and struck Jenni McGruder.
Knox County State’s Attorney John Pepmeyer told jurors that Kelly left the area and was driven to a Motel 6 in Davenport, Iowa. Kelly was indicted by a federal grand jury for leaving the state of Illinois as a fugitive months ago.
Bianucci told the jury that prosecutors "have to prove John Kelly caused the murder."
He maintains two shooters — not one — fired six shots that night.
The "events happened quickly, suddenly. If Mr. Kelly runs away and is picked up by Leonard McGee, he can’t drive away in a van," the Chicago attorney said, touching on a future witness and what they had previously told authorities. "It might not have been John Kelly. It might have been someone else."
Bianucci questioned Morrison three times about how many shots he heard that night while Morrison remained consistent that he heard three shots. Mike McGruder was also consistent on the number of shots he heard that night — two to three.
Testimony is slated to resume at 9 a.m. Friday. The trial is expected to carry over into early next week.
If convicted, Kelly faces up to life in prison.
The Register-Mail will be tweeting from the courtroom @RConnelly_ using #KellyTrial.