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Homicide Investigations Stall Without Cooperating Witnesses

Evanston police continue to investigate the recent shooting deaths of Justin Murray, 19, and Javar Bamberg, 23. A lack of cooperating witnesses has stymied the investigation, police say.

Police say a lack of cooperating witnesses has stymied their investigation into the recent shooting deaths of two young Evanston men. 

Detectives have identified possible suspects in the homicides of , and , according to Evanston Police Cmdr. Jason Parrott. However, they do not yet have enough information to press charges, he said. 

“Not having a cooperative witness base is probably our biggest obstruction to bringing charges,” Parrott told Patch on Friday.

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Police need evidence that ties a suspect to either of the crime scenes, he explained. That could mean someone who saw a person with a gun at the scene, for example, or someone who could tell police where the murder weapon is.

Asked whether there was a possibility that police could find DNA evidence linking a suspect to either homicide, Parrott said the chance was highly unlikely, given the fact that both Murray and Bamberg were shot and killed outside, where it is harder to collect that sort of evidence. 

“In both cases, there was no struggle involved,” he added, meaning it is unlikely that DNA from a perpetrator was left on the victim. Murray was shot from a distance, while Bamberg was shot at close range, according to police. 

Members of the North Regional Major Crimes Task Force—a region-wide group of detectives—may convene soon to look over additional information that police have gathered, according to Parrott. However, he said he could not predict how soon police might have enough information to press charges. 

“Is there a chance that somebody never gets charged with this? That chance always exists,” he said. “We don’t feel that that’s going to happen. We hope that something will break.” 

Murray’s mother, Carolyn Murray, and Bamberg’s father, John Bamberg, both spoke at a human services committee meeting this week, telling city officials that they were dissatisfied with the police investigation so far.

She said there had been numerous instances of gunfire on her street over the years before her son was shot and killed, according to a video recording of the meeting. Yet, she said, it seemed to take police too long to respond when someone called about shots fired. When there was a shooting at the McDonald’s five blocks from her house, Murray said, she believed she and her neighbors should have been alerted immediately.

“If these young street thugs—unorganized, uneducated and unemployed—if they can do this in your neighborhood, what will the police and patrol and operation look like when the terrorists come?” she said. “I just want some answers.”

Speaking at the human services committee, both Murray and Bamberg criticized what they said was an unfair portrayal of their families by investigators and the media. Police and state prosecutors have said that three recent shootings could all be tied back to the murder of 22-year-old Robert Gresham at the Keg in 2005, as part of an ongoing feud between certain members of two local families. Justin Murray, Javar Bamberg and Marcus Davis (who was shot and killed in 2010) all have family ties with either Gresham or the man charged with his murder, according to Parrott. Police also believe that some of the individuals connected to the shootings may be involved in gang-related activities. Speaking at Justin Murray’s funeral, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl described the shootings as “a tragedy as old as the Hatfields and the McCoys, the Montagues and the Capulets.”

But Carolyn Murray told the human services committee she was "perturbed" by that portrayal. 

“I don’t know these people. I’m not related to them. I pay my taxes,” Murray said. "Where does this come from? I’m not in a gang.”

John Bamberg described the idea of an extended family feud and gang-related activity as “foolishness.” 

“Me and my family is highly offended with all of this that you have going on about the Hatfields and McCoys,” Bamberg said. “My family is civilized. There is no ongoing battle.”

Speaking in response to Murray and Bamberg, Police Chief Richard Eddington said at the meeting that he was very sorry for the families who had lost two young men. But he said, he believed police had drawn the correct conclusions so far.

“Frankly, I wish I was wrong, but the continued shootings and homicides lead me to believe that I’m not,” he said. “There are individuals in both these families that are disinclined to put this down.” 

Eddington noted a recent incident in which someone fired shots into a home in the 2000 block of Dodge Ave. shortly before Christmas. Police believe that shooting, too, may be related to the previous incidents. 

victoria smith January 12, 2013 at 02:12 PM
Pretty sad that people who know something are not willing to come forward! Maybe they are afraid of some sort of retaliation against their family? I think there is more to this than we all know. Terrible to have to live in fear and to have this on your conscience.

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