A jury on Thursday convicted a star college football player of aiding a gang-related murder and attempted murder during a gunfight outside a Minneapolis nightclub.
Cedric Chappell Jr., 22, could face decades in prison for the fatal shooting of Willie James Smith III and the wounding of another man at the Blue Nile Restaurant and Lounge last September.
The charges crushed the promising college career of Chappell, a wide receiver who was arrested at Valley City State University four days after the shooting. He had attended North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton for two years before Valley City.
Chappell is to be sentenced Sept. 11 in Hennepin County District Court for the crimes, which a jury agreed were for the benefit of a gang.
Prosecutors are seeking 21 to 30 years in prison for the murder alone, said Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for the Hennepin County attorney’s office.
Whatever term the judge metes out on the murder conviction will lead Assistant County Attorney Thad Tudor to request half that length of time for Chappell’s second-degree assault on the second victim, Laszewski said.
Tudor will also ask the judge to sentence Chappell consecutively on the terms.
“He could wind up with as much as 45 [years] if the judge goes along with all this,” Laszewski said.
The trial began Aug. 4. Jury deliberations began late Wednesday afternoon.
At college, Chappell was the leader for the 3-1 VCSU Vikings in receiving yards and touchdown receptions. The team had a bye on its schedule that September weekend, allowing Chappell time to be back in his hometown.
Testimony told of how he was hanging out with friends, who were members or associates of the 10s street gang, at the Blue Nile, an Ethiopian restaurant and bar.
Just after 2 a.m. that Sunday morning, a fight erupted between members of that gang and a rival, the DTs gang, in the club.
The fight spilled into the parking lot. Chappell approached Smith and shot him once in the chest. Chappell then shot another man in the leg as he was running away.
In all, about 35 shots were fired, riddling nearby cars. In a recorded police interview, Chappell admitted to shooting both men.
As a teen, Chappell had a long history of thefts, assaults, a restraining order violation and other crimes. Then, for a half-dozen years, he seemed to avoid trouble with the law.
He graduated from Minneapolis’ Washburn High School in 2011 as a star on the football and basketball teams.
On the court, as a senior forward, he had averaged 12.9 points per game, with a season-high 22 points in the Millers’ upset victory over defending AAA champion St. Paul Johnson in the Twin Cities championship game.
“He’s our rock,” Washburn coach Reggie Perkins had said after that signature victory. “We have a lot of young players, and Cedric is the senior we look to to keep his head and be a leader for the guys around him.”
After his arrest at Valley City, the junior wide receiver was suspended from the NAIA football team and the college.