Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect the correct charge against James Atwood as attempted first-degree murder. This story was also edited to clarify a list of witnesses.
KANKAKEE — The rivalry between the Latin Kings and Harrison Gents street gangs appears to be the catalyst for a drive-by shooting, which occurred in January 2015.
James Atwood, who prosecutors say is a member of the Latin Kings, is on trial this week on charges of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm into an occupied building, felon in possession of a firearm and possession of a firearm by a street gang member.
Prosecutors claim the 33-year-old was the gunman on Jan. 14, 2015, who fired at least five shots from a 9mm handgun at a targeted home in the 1800 block of East Duane Boulevard in Kankakee.
Two bullets struck a house next door, entering a bedroom where two children were playing while their parents were in another room.
According to Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe, Atwood was the front-seat passenger in a vehicle driven by Jovan S. Saulsberry, 26, Bourbonnais. Jesse J. Dorsett Jr., 26, Kankakee, was a passenger in the back seat, he said.
Saulsberry and Dorsett both were charged with attempted murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm into an occupied building and reckless discharge of a firearm. Saulsberry’s next court date is Dec. 20 with a trail date of Jan. 6. The charges against Dorsett have been dropped.
They are both listed as potential witnesses, meaning they could be called to testify by both the prosecution and defense. Saulsberry was not called to testify at the trial.
The targeted home was the residence of a Harrison Gents gang member who was living with his fiancee, her three children and her teenage cousin.
He testified Tuesday that he is no longer a member of the gang. His fiancee testified that her brother had been a member of the Harrison Gents at one time.
She said the fiancé and the four children were in the house at 7 p.m. when the shooting occurred. She said they had gotten home about 20 minutes earlier and she was waiting for a friend coming over to visit. She said a vehicle had slowly driven a couple of times.
Before the shots were fired, she saw a hand holding a gun come out the front passenger window.
At least three bullets hit her van that was parked on the side of the house.
She testified her house had been a target on a weekly basis since Christmas.
Atwood’s attorney, Public Defender Larry Beaumont, asked the woman if she told police that Saulsberry and Dorsett could be involved.
“[My friend] gave officers the names,” she said.
She refused to go to the police station or give a written statement.
During his questioning of now-retired Kankakee Police Detective Rich Sims, Beaumont asked if she in fact was the one who gave the names.
“She gave me a couple of names and we put information out on Dorsett and Saulsberry,” Sims said.
Atwood is currently serving a sentence on unrelated federal drug charges. In November, the U.S. Court of Appeals granted his motion to be resentenced. Atwood appealed the 17½-year sentence, arguing he was not a career criminal as prosecutors claimed and the sentence should have been less.
Atwood pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine, distribution of cocaine and use of a communication facility to facilitate a drug transaction.