Six defendants convicted in December 2017 of racketeering and drug conspiracy after a three-month trial were sentenced today to life in prison. Cornell Dawson, the leader of the Black Souls, a violent street gang operating on the west side of Chicago, was sentenced, along with Teron Odum, Antwan Davis, Ulysses Polk, Clifton Lemon, and Duavon Spears, who were managers and enforcers for the Black Souls. Judge Michael B. McHale sentenced each defendant to life in prison on the racketeering conspiracy charge and a forty-year consecutive term for narcotics conspiracy. Fourteen other members of the Black Souls pled guilty to racketeering and drug charges prior to trial and have previously been sentenced.
Evidence at trial showed that for at least 15 years, the Black Souls controlled heroin and cocaine sales in the areas near Monroe St. and Pulaski Rd. in the West Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago and protected their territory through numerous acts of murder and kidnapping, beatings, and witness intimidation. Members of the Black Souls committed at least four murders to protect their drug operation and as retaliation for shootings by rival gangs. As part of the sentence he imposed for the racketeering conspiracy count, Judge McHale also imposed the following concurrent life sentences for a series of unlawful deaths that the jury found were reasonably foreseeable to each defendant:
- January 9, 2013 murder of Johnny Taylor: Dawson, Davis
- October 20, 2012 murder of Claude Snulligan: Dawson, Odum, Davis, Polk, Spears
- July 21, 2003 murder of Ernest Keys: Dawson, Odum
- June 24, 2002 murder of Charles Watson: Dawson, Odum, Polk, Lemon
Among the murders proven at trial was the October 20, 2012 execution-style murder of Claude Snulligan. Months prior to Snulligan’s murder, Odum had been arrested and charged with aggravated battery after beating Snulligan for calling the police to complain about the Black Souls selling drugs in front of his house. While Odum was in custody, Snulligan refused to accept a bribe from Dawson and Davis in exchange for not cooperating with law enforcement in the case against Odum. Two months after Snulligan’s refusal, Spears shot him in the back of the head in broad daylight in the neighborhood controlled by the Black Souls, as other members of the Black Souls stood nearby.
“The sentences imposed by the Court hold the defendants accountable for their roles as leaders of the violent Black Souls street gang and for their participation in murders, attempted murders, shootings, kidnappings, beatings and drug trafficking,” said Kimberly M. Foxx, Cook County State’s Attorney. “The severity of these sentences will not only protect the community from these defendants, but also send a strong message to the leaders of other violent gangs that they will be held accountable. I want to thank our law enforcement partners on this case, the Chicago Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation, who tirelessly worked to bring the leaders of the Black Souls to justice,” continued Foxx. Foxx added, “My office is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to bring additional prosecutions like this one that strategically target violent offenders preying on communities already ravaged by violent crime and drugs.”
This case was the first to be tried in Cook County under the Illinois RICO law passed in 2012. In 2017, at the urging of the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Illinois legislature extended the RICO law for another five-year term.