In an emotional end to a complicated trial, Carnell Fitzpatrick was found
guilty of first-degree murder Tuesday in a case Cook County prosecutors have
called the first local incident of road rage in which a bicyclist was killed
by an angry driver intent on seeking revenge for a minor traffic dispute.
"When you have a three-ton vehicle and maybe a 20-pound bicycle, that is no
even match," Assistant State's Atty. Lynda Peters said moments after the
verdict. "It's very skewed."
The verdict came after a Cook County jury had deliberated for more than 16
hours over two days. During that time, they had sent the judge a note asking
for legal clarification about the definition of reckless homicide. The jury
had been given the option of convicting Fitzpatrick on the lesser charge.
They also were allowed to view for a second time a videotaped statement
given by an eyewitness to the April 26, 1999, accident that left bike
messenger Tom McBride, 26, dead.
Fitzpatrick, 31, faces 20 to 60 years in prison. He had been out of jail on
bond throughout the five-day trial but was taken into custody after the
ruling. He sobbed as sheriff's deputies led him from the courtroom.
In the courtroom gallery, emotions were high on both sides of the aisle.
Before the verdict was announced, a half dozen courthouse deputies came into
the room, standing in the center of the room, between those who were there
in support of Fitzpatrick and those who were family, friends and former
colleagues of McBride.
When the verdict came, Fitzpatrick's wife screamed and ran from the room.
Her sobs could still be heard inside the courtroom as Judge Kenneth J. Wadas
polled the jury.
In the front row, Robert McBride, the victim's father, quietly shook and
cried. His wife, Mary Ellen, leaned against a son, tears running down her
"We're grateful for them," Mary Ellen McBride said of the state's attorney's
office as she left the courtroom. "They put on an outstanding case."
One of the primary elements of the trial had been the eyewitness testimony
of Jerry Carter III, a Chicago man who had been jogging near the scene of
the accident in the 5300 block of West Washington Boulevard.
During pretrial motions, Carter had refused to testify about what he had
told police and later a grand jury: that he had seen Fitzpatrick
deliberately run down McBride after the cyclist shouted curse words during a
near-collision. He had also refused to testify during the trial and had done
so under orders of the judge, recanting what he had earlier told
Carter had claimed he had been threatened to not testify and had warned
prosecutors that he would lie on the stand. Peters, one of the two
prosecutors, said after the trial that the state's attorney's office has no
plans to pursue perjury charges against Carter.
Throughout much of the trial, the courtroom was packed with Chicago-area
bike messengers and sport cyclists. After the verdict, George Christensen
broke down as he talked about McBride, a Chicago bike messenger for seven
years with whom Christensen had worked for many years.
"My toughest day of messengering--through extreme cold, extreme heat,
whatever--was the day after he was killed," Christensen said in the hallway
outside Courtroom 301. "I could really feel his presence that day."
Christensen said he hoped the verdict would send a signal to drivers that
"vehicles are murder weapons." He added that he thought the trial's outcome
would give "bicyclists a little insurance that the law is on their side."
"It could have happened to any of us," he said. "We've all had these
Fitzpatrick's lawyer, veteran defense attorney Sam Adam, declined to comment
on the verdict.
Fitzpatrick, who was transported to the Cook County Jail, is due back in
court on Jan. 15 for post-trial motions and possibly sentencing.