Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2019-05-22
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

Gay attorney helps boxer face murder charge
by Jamie Anne Royce
2011-12-21

facebook twitter pin it del.icio.us stumble upon digg google +1 reddit email


Hollywood screenplay writers couldn't have created a better story: A teen boxing prodigy with Olympic dreams is accused of murder, then acquitted after a dramatic jury trial and goes on to win the USA Boxing National Championship six months later.

However, for Semajay Thomas, it's not a movie—it's his life.

At age 15, Thomas lived in Chicago's West Town next to a gang house inhabited by members of Satan's Disciples. The gang tried to recruit Thomas as a pre-teen, but he resisted drugs and organized crime, choosing to pursue his studies and his promising boxing career.

"Everybody in the neighborhood knew Semajay, and everybody knew that he was special. Even the gang kids would come to Eckhart Park and watch him train because he was something to see," said Jon Erickson, an openly gay man who is a partner at the law firm, Erickson & Oppenheimer, that represented Thomas.

Erickson & Oppenheimer specializes in criminal defense and civil-rights litigation, especially police misconduct, police brutality and false arrest. A third of the firm's clientele is gay and lesbian.

Erickson says Thomas was on his front porch when Reynaldo Ortiz walked by, taunting the gang members who were drinking on the neighboring porch. When Thomas sensed trouble, he went inside his home. Fifteen minutes later, Chicago Police found Ortiz beaten to death on Thomas' street.

Several gang members pointed the finger at Thomas, and he was charged with first degree murder two weeks after Ortiz was found dead.

"I was ranked number one at the time. I won the Junior Olympics silver medal, I won the National Silver Gloves; for all that to be taken away from me, it was real devastating and a real burden for my family to bear," said Thomas.

While awaiting trial, Thomas spent 15 months at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, continuing to box by tying up his hands with ripped bed sheets and punching his mattress placed against the side of his cell.

"I started training in the facility, and everybody wanted me to help them train, to get them in shape, show them how to box," said Thomas. "The whole facility started to praise me, to help motivate me. And I started to motivate the younger kids by helping them keep their faith, help keep them positive, and [encouraging them] to follow their dreams. Life doesn't end here."

Very little physical evidence tied Thomas to Ortiz's murder. Thomas' DNA was not found on the victim's body, and his hands were not bruised or injured like they probably would have been if he had fatally beaten someone. According to Erickson, the murder charge against Thomas was based mostly on the eyewitness accounts given by the gang members.

"This is not unusual. Very often, there's not a lot more evidence in murder cases like this," said Erickson, who was quick to point out the prosecutor and police followed the evidence where it led them.

During the trial, Thomas took to the stand to tell his side of the story. "It didn't take us long to realize Semajay was his own best defense," said Erickson.

Thomas was asked who the real killers were, and he hesitated, knowing that gang members would retaliate by attacking his mother and sisters if he named names, but risked conviction—and his Olympic dreams—if he refused. Thomas eventually said the first name of the Satan's Disciples leader, and the courtroom erupted.

"It was really something right out of a movie," said Erickson. "[Samajay's] mother fell to the floor because she knew what he was being asked to do, the choice he was being asked to make."

After 50 minutes of deliberation, the jury returned a not guilty verdict. Several jury members were in tears, and some of them even asked the judge for permission to hug Thomas.

"As someone who has done criminal defense for 20 years, never have I heard a juror want anything to do with a criminal defendant, but that just tells you the kind of kid Semajay is," said Erickson.

Thomas wasted no time, pursuing his boxing ambitions the next day. "I was released and I got right back in the gym," said Thomas. "I started back training and sparring. I kept telling everybody I was going to make it to the Olympics."

Thomas and his attorneys have maintained the bond formed throughout the trial. "He's become our kid," said Erickson. "He still comes to the office at least once a week and we sit and talk, find out how he's doing in school."

Six months after Thomas was released, Erickson escorted him to the U.S.A. Boxing Championship, where Thomas took home the 2011 title for the light welterweight division of 141 pounds. Thomas hopes to repeat this victory in February, so he can qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.

"He's got this spirit about him that's unbreakable," said Erickson. "That's why he'll go all the way."


facebook twitter pin it del.icio.us stumble upon digg google +1 reddit email




Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

New study on gun violence against LGBTs highlights need for research 2019-05-12
Chicagoan alleges discrimination by Nashville employer 2019-05-11
Ex-officer charged in Andersonville incident 2019-05-07
Suspects arrested in murder of queer reporter 2019-04-20
Flyers about murder victim distributed in Lake View 2019-04-13
Chicago to sue Smollett for $130K 2019-04-05
Ashanti Carmon murdered, DC transgender and LGBTQ organizations plan vigil 2019-04-02
NATIONAL Presidential candidates, Truth Awards, Chick-fil-A, hate crimes 2019-03-26
Jussie Smollett Charges dropped, National Black Justice Coalition responds 2019-03-26
Reports: Prosecutors drop Smollett charges 2019-03-26
Smollett pleads not guilty 2019-03-14
BB gun shot at A'ville Starbucks 2019-03-13
Cardinal sentenced in child sex-abuse case 2019-03-13
Smollett indicted on 16 counts 2019-03-08
Prosecutor chosen to oversee consent decree 2019-03-03
Brothers in Smollett case express 'regret' 2019-03-01
Senior cleric convicted of child sex abuse 2019-02-25
Smollett dropped from rest of 'Empire' season 2019-02-22
Police: Smollett behind 'shameful' stunt, actor out on $100K bail (UPDATE) 2019-02-21
Smollett now officially a suspect in case (UPDATE Smollett turns himself in) 2019-02-20
More Smollett news, controversial letter, Foxx recuses self 2019-02-20
Report: Police focusing on Smollett, in latest twist 2019-02-17
Suspects released in Jussie Smollett case 2019-02-16
Police questioning people of interest in Jussie Smollett case (UPDATE) 2019-02-14
WORLD Polish party, Brazil crime, Mumbai Pride 2019-02-06
Controversial police sergeant retires 2019-02-05
Gay 'Empire' actor breaks silence after Chicago attack (UPDATE) 2019-02-01
Jussie Smollett of Empire attacked, community groups respond 2019-01-29
Seventeen-year-old charged with 2018 Stanton murder according to reports 2019-01-13
Family's Pride flag stolen; neighbors rally 2019-01-02
Gay Chicagoan killed in Missouri 2018-12-17
Report: 17-percent increase in hate crimes 2018-11-21
Couple sue police officer, others after nightclub attack 2018-11-17
AMA policy supports services for LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence 2018-11-13
Reports: Off duty cop sued after brawl at Andersonville bar 2018-11-04
WORLD Taiwan march, Brazilian politics, monument desecrated 2018-10-30
Groups respond to Tree of Life shootings 2018-10-28
Rally to demand progress on Chicago murders of transgender women 2018-10-25
NATIONAL Facebook action, HRC campaign, gay-bar shooting 2018-10-09
Transgender woman killed on Chicago's West Side 2018-10-05
 



Copyright © 2019 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor


 



About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Submit an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.