KANKAKEE — Edgar J. Watkins Jr. pleaded guilty to the shooting death of 20-year-old Johan Rowe on Tuesday in Kankakee County court.
On the day his bench trial was set to start before Judge Clark Erickson, the 32-year-old Watkins instead was sentenced to 20 years in prison followed by three years of parole.
Watkins pleaded guilty to one count of felony first degree murder in connection with Rowe's October 2014 death.
If convicted of the original felony charges — two counts of first-degree murder and one count of being an armed habitual offender — Watkins would have served 51 years, according to his public defender, Lawrence Beaumont
"He weighed out the options. In theory, he could have been found not guilty, but the down side was so high," Beaumont said.
Beaumont said he talked with Watkins about the case for 3 1/2 to 4 hours on Monday. They went over the evidence and the possible outcomes.
They talked about a possible plea agreement, which Beaumont offered to prosecutors Bill Dickenson and Ed Pentuic Tuesday in court.
"Just the immediacy of his day of reckoning swayed him," Beaumont said of Watkins' decision to enter a plea.
Dickenson said it was good to give Rowe's family closure.
Rowe's mother was in the courtroom along with 20 family members and friends.
Dickenson told them that a prosecution witness failed to appear last month at a court date. A warrant was issued and prosecutors intend to pursue legal action.
"His absence was a factor in why we reached the agreement we did today," Dickenson said.
Before sentencing, Dickenson told the court the facts of the case.
On Oct. 26, 2014, at about 10 a.m., Rowe and Watkins argued outside a small store located in the 900 block of East Court Street. There was no physical confrontation.
A short time later, Rowe was talking with two women outside an apartment complex on North Evergreen Avenue when they heard gunfire.
They ran into the apartment of one of the women. That is when Rowe realized he had been shot.
Rowe was struck once on the left side of his abdomen. The bullet went through one of Rowe's kidneys. He died two hours later in the emergency room of Presence St. Mary's Hospital.
Watkins was arrested Nov. 6 by Kankakee police.
He told investigators he was there but was not the shooter. Dickenson said there was video of Watkins apparently following Rowe before the shooting.
Dickenson said the gun never was recovered.