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 2018-05-23
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

Body of missing River Forest man located 2018-05-25
Recent Preemption Bills Undermine Democracy and Threaten LGBT Equality 2018-05-18
Local dealership settles anti-gay discrimination suit 2018-05-16
NATIONAL Election news, Pulse Nightclub, drag queen attacked 2018-05-15
Authorities searching for missing suburban man 2018-05-15
The Shepards keynote hate-crimes summit 2018-05-14
Gay man severely injured in attack/robbery 2018-05-09
Hate-crimes summit at Center on May 10 2018-05-09
Fired Rockford-area lesbian files EEOC complaint 2018-05-06
Man who threatened Boystown shooting captured 2018-05-03
Man who threatened Boystown shooting mistakenly released 2018-05-03
WORLD Iran trans assaults, legal action in Japan, Harry and Meghan 2018-05-02
Community airs census concerns to journalists 2018-05-01
Cosby found guilty of assaulting lesbian 2018-04-26
Extremist Anti-LGBTQ Judicial Nominee Kyle Duncan Confirmed 2018-04-25
Racial-justice workshop April 28 at Univ. Church 2018-04-24
Acceptance of LGBT people and rights has increased around the world 2018-04-19
Schock corruption trial continues 2018-04-18
Officials say Lesbian mom who drove family off cliff was drunk 2018-04-18
Communities who Exposed Gang Database Criticize CPD Superintendent's Plan 2018-04-13
DOJ proposes roll back of data collection on crime victimization of LGBT youth 2018-04-11
Community, activists meet with AG's staff on policing issues 2018-04-11
Town hall examines Latinx issues 2018-04-11
#NeverAgainChicago town hall April 15 2018-04-11
Dart detainment case sees further developments 2018-04-03
Attny Gen'l Lisa Madigan among AGs suing to block census citizenship question 2018-04-03
In Indonesia Four Arrested for Same-Sex Conduct, at Risk of Public Torture 2018-04-03
Reports: SWAT teams respond following Boystown suicide threat 2018-03-31
Pulse gunman's widow found not guilty 2018-03-30
Medical, civil rights, student groups ask court to back trans student rights 2018-03-27
Kenya Court Finds Forced Anal Exams Unconstitutional 2018-03-22
City, ACLU, groups enter agreement on police oversight 2018-03-22
National LGBTQ Task Force calls for reevaluation the role of guns in America 2018-03-21
Title VII, Where and why "sex" matters to LGBT employees 2018-03-21
Millennium Park's security plan unveiled 2018-03-19
Ahead of Supreme case, leaders, advocates unite to affirm businesses should be open to all 2018-03-16
GLAD, NCLR urge 8th Circuit to find Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination 2018-03-15
Businesses, attorneys general, rights groups tell court discrimination is bad for business 2018-03-14
Attorney General Lisa Madigan defends constitutionality of anti-discrimination law 2018-03-14
Pride Fund to End Gun Violence responds to White House gun reform package 2018-03-12
 



Copyright © 2018 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 produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.