Felony murder charges have been dropped against five Chicago teenagers after a 14-year-old who was with them during a burglary attempt was shot and killed by a homeowner, prosecutors announced.
The teens were initially charged with murder after the youngest member of their group died after they allegedly tried to break into a car in front of a home in Old Mill Creek, Illinois, about 47 miles north of Chicago, on Aug. 13, according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
When the 75-year-old homeowner went outside to confront the teens, he told deputies that two of the people in the group “quickly approached him,” one of whom was “holding something in his hand,” prompting him to fire his gun at least three times.
A 14-year-old boy was struck by gunfire and was pronounced dead after the group fled the scene and dropped him off near a Gurnee Police officer who was tending to an unrelated traffic stop about three miles away.
Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim said in a statement on Thursday that his office decided to drop the murder charges after reviewing the evidence, consulting with the teens’ defense attorneys and considering the wishes of the victim’s family.
However, each of the offenders “will be held responsible and face appropriate sentences,” Nerheim said.
The sole 18-year-old in the group, Diamond Davis, will be formally charged with felony conspiracy to commit burglary and misdemeanor criminal trespass to a motor vehicle. She is expected to waive her preliminary hearing during her bond hearing on Thursday afternoon and plead guilty to the charges next week, Nerheim said.
A public defender for Davis declined to provide a comment to ABC News on the case.
The four other offenders, who are all 16 and 17 years old, will be tried in juvenile court, but Nerheim could not provide the details of their charges “due to strict laws governing juvenile courtroom proceedings.”
The homeowner was in bed around 1:15 a.m. when he saw headlights moving up his “exceptionally long driveway,” which sits on a remote property, Nerheim said. He told authorities that as he was getting ready to go outside, he noticed the SUV turn around to face the the street before several people inside got out and approached his home.
The man then armed himself with his gun, which he owned legally, and fired it out of fear for his and his wife’s safety, striking the 14-year-old. Nerheim said.
After the teens fled the scene, they led authorities on a high-speed chase back to Chicago and only stopped the car once they ran out of gas, Nerheim said.
They then fled on foot but were later caught, telling detectives that they didn’t stop the vehicle because “they didn’t want to go back to jail,” Nerheim said.
A 10-inch long hunting knife and a cell phone with pinned GPS coordinates of other homes near Old Mill Creek were later found on the homeowner’s driveway, Nerheim said.
The “sole purpose” of the teens’ trip from Chicago to Old Mill Creek “was to commit several vehicle burglaries,” Nerheim said.
“The dilemma I have faced for the last five weeks surrounding the Old Mill Creek case has been balancing justice, the safety of our community, and recognizing the ages of the offenders involved,” Nerheim said.
Although Nerheim initially charged the teens with felony murder, which “does fit the crime committed,” he decided to exercise “discretion in this situation,” as he hopes the teens “will learn from this tragedy,” and “take this opportunity to be rehabilitated,” due to their young ages, he said.
“It is time for these offenders to understand the seriousness of their actions and face the consequences,” Nerheim said in the statement. “If they choose to continue to follow the troubled path they are currently on, it will end in only one of two ways – either with another tragic funeral or with more involvement with the criminal justice system.”