BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) – A man who admitted fatally stabbing a teenager during a dispute over a stolen bicycle has been sentenced to 11 years in prison in the case a prosecutor called “vigilante justice, pure and simple.”
Michael Alexander, 19, of Belleville apologized to 18-year-old Jarrell Fountain’s family before being sentenced Monday by St. Clair County Circuit Judge John Baricevic, who called the May 2010 killing “stupid” on both sides.
Deborah Phillips, a prosecutor, had pressed for the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, arguing that Alexander was intent on trouble when he and his brother, Floyd, armed themselves with a knife and brass knuckles and went in search of Floyd’s stolen bike. Alexander’s attorney, James Gomric, had asked for eight years, casting Fountain’s death as self-defense by a client he said has an IQ of 73.
Michael Alexander pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder. Floyd Alexander is serving a seven-year sentence he received in February for his role in the killing.
Phillips said Monday that Fountain’s death culminated “a series of poor choices” by Michael Alexander, who joined his brother and their stepfather in a search for the $700 bicycle they already had reported stolen with Belleville police. The brothers took with them a knife and brass knuckles and eventually found the bike with a group that included Fountain.
“They went looking not just for a bicycle. They went looking for a fight,” Phillips said. “This was vigilante justice, pure and simple.”
Alexander attorney James Gomric argued that his client only acted out of self-defense after the group including Fountain began pummeling Floyd Alexander. Fountain later approached Michael Alexander who was trapped in the back seat of the family’s car.
“He took action to aid his older brother,” Gomric argued.
Phillips countered that Michael Alexander brandished a knife, elevating a fistfight into a deadly encounter, with no evidence that anyone other than the Alexanders had weapons. The prosecutor said Fountain only engaged Michael Alexander in response to a racial epithet. She said after Fountain was stabbed in the chest, he stumbled a couple of blocks then collapsed and died.
“He took that life over a bicycle,” Phillips said of Michael Alexander. “Society simply cannot tolerate vigilante justice.”
During his courtroom apology, Michael Alexander faced Fountain’s survivors seated in the gallery’s back row and insisted the killing was not planned.
“When I saw all these people punching and kicking my brother Floyd, I got scared,” he read from a statement, his voice cracking. “I panicked because I didn’t know what was going to happen to my family and I.”
“I hope one day you can look into your heart to forgive,” he added as many of Fountain’s family wiped away tears. “And I hope you can accept my sincere apology.”