Chicago was in the midst of a tumultuous summer beset by the pandemic and violent protests when Carlton Weekly, a reputed gang member who rapped under the name FBG Duck, came to the ritzy Gold Coast neighborhood in August 2020 to shop for his son’s birthday.
Weekly’s presence downtown on a Tuesday afternoon caused the predictable stir. But inside a boutique on East Oak Street, a shopper talking loudly on the phone caught the attention of a store security guard, who started shooting video with his own cellphone, according to court records.
The agitated man was Ralph Turpin, according to federal prosecutors, a member of Chicago’s violent O-Block street gang and a sworn enemy of Weekly’s. Having spied Weekly, Turpin called his fellow gang members with an urgent message to get up to the Gold Coast as fast as possible and kill him, prosecutors allege.
About 24 minutes later, two carloads of Turpin’s O-Block associates peeled onto Oak Street, where Weekly was by then standing in a line waiting to get into another store, Dolce & Gabbana, according to prosecutors. With Turpin standing on the street watching, four gunmen jumped out and opened fire, unloading a total of 38 shots in just 12 seconds.
Weekly, 26, was struck at least 16 times and died at the scene. The attack also wounded a woman who had driven Weekly to the store, as well as a bystander waiting in the same line. Almost all of it was captured in various angles by surveillance cameras.
As Weekly’s body lay on the sidewalk and police cordoned off the crime scene, surveillance images captured Turpin calmly walking up with the gathering crowd and standing on his tiptoes to get a better view, according to prosecutors.
A short time later, Turpin allegedly sent a text to a woman with whom he shared a child, but who also had been romantically linked to Weekly.
The text “contained simply three laughing emojis,” prosecutors allege.
On Tuesday, more than three years after Weekly’s slaying, Turpin, 34, and five other reputed members of O-Block are going on trial in U.S. District Court on charges of conspiring to murder Weekly as part of a criminal racketeering enterprise.
Charged along with Turpin are Charles Liggins, 32; Kenneth Roberson, 29; Christopher Thomas, 24; Marcus Smart, 24; and Tacarlos Offerd, 32. Each defendant faces up to life in prison if convicted.
The indictment alleges the O-Block gang, which is headquartered in and around the Parkway Gardens public housing complex at 64th Street and King Drive, publicly claimed responsibility for acts of violence — including Weekly’s slaying — and used social media and rap lyrics to boast about killing rivals to increase their criminal enterprise.
While other gang trials have seen similar accusations, the O-Block case will shine a particularly bright light on the connections between Chicago’s drill rap scene and street gang activity.
Among the evidence prosecutors plan to present to the jury is a snipped of Offerd’s 2021 song “Neva Change,” in which he rapped about being “from the O, where we known to keep a switch” while wearing a diamond chain with the O-Block insignia, according to a prosecution filing last month.
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, plan to argue that there is no proof that the O-Block gang is any kind of criminal enterprise. The defense will also call into question the identifications of Weekly’s shooters, and warn jurors not to trust the testimony of insiders who cut deals with the U.S. attorney’s office to save their own skin.
The trial, expected to last up to two months, is the latest in a string of major racketeering cases brought by the U.S. attorney’s office aimed at the leaders of Chicago’s splintered gang factions that prosecutors say are driving the city’s rampant gun violence.
Earlier this year, a jury found three members of the South Side’s Goonie gang guilty of racketeering conspiracy after a lengthy trial in which prosecutors accused them of acting as “urban hunters,” terrorizing residents and ruling territory in the Englewood neighborhood through unrelenting waves of gun violence.
Other cases in recent years have targeted the West Side’s Wicked Town gang faction and the Four Corner Hustlers.
But none of those cases included a victim as high-profile as Weekly, whose brazen, broad-daylight slaying stood out even during 2020′s elevated violence levels in the city.
After the shooting, Weekly’s mother called for calm as Chicago police issued internal warnings of retaliatory violence. Three months later, O-Block leader Dayvon Bennett, also known as “King Von,” was slain outside a nightclub in Atlanta, allegedly during an altercation with another rapper, according to news reports and court records.
The trial before U.S District Judge Martha Pacold has been moved to a larger courtroom to accommodate the number of defendants and attorneys as well as members of the public who wish to attend.
As in many gang trials, security will be tight, with cellphones and other electronics banned for most spectators in the courtroom as well as an overflow room six floors below. The judge has ruled that the jury will remain anonymous.
Jury selection is expected to be lengthy, and opening statements in the case may not come until the week of Oct. 23.
Among the key witnesses expected to be called by prosecutors is a former Parkway Gardens resident who was active in the gang when it was still called WiiiC City. The name was changed to O-Block as a nod to one of its leaders, Odee Perry, who prosecutors say was murdered by rival Gakirah Barnes on Aug. 11, 2011.
Barnes and Weekly belonged to the STL faction of the rival Gangster Disciples, a sect also known as Tookaville for a young man killed in the same conflict not long before Perry, according to prosecutors.
According to the witness, who is referred to in court records only as Cooperator 2, O-Block runs the Parkway Gardens as a sort of fortified drug emporium, with members paying regular dues to help pay bail money, fund commissaries for incarcerated associates, and take care of other gang expenses.
In O-Block, a member could rise through the ranks by rapping, selling drugs and making a lot of money. But the only sure way to get recognition was to shoot at opposing gang members, prosecutors wrote in a pretrial filing laying out their evidence.
“Killers have more respect within O-Block than people who just shoot, and killing a high-profile opposition member, often referred to as an ‘opp,’ will increase status within O-Block even more,” prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors said Perry’s murder touched off a war between O-Block and STL, an ever-escalating cycle of violence and taunts.
Barnes’ brother, referred to in court documents as Cooperator 3, is expected to tell jurors that three years after his sister killed Perry, they were both ambushed by Bennett on their own turf, leaving him wounded and his sister dead.
In a further jab at his enemies, Bennett allegedly came back to STL/Tookaville territory after the shooting and threatened he “was from O-Block,” according to prosecutors.
The rivalry hit a fever pitch in July 2020, after Weekly released a song on YouTube titled “Dead Bitches.” A number of witnesses are expected to testify that the song was a “particularly blistering diss record” that disparaged several slain O-Block associates, including Perry and Sheroid Liggins, the younger brother of the defendant Charles Liggins, according to the prosecution filing.
Another prosecution witness, identified in court records as Cooperator 4, will testify Roberson told them Bennett “placed a hit out on Weekly” prior to the shooting on the Gold Coast, the filing stated.
After the slaying was carried out, Bennett allegedly offered to buy the participants enormous diamond pendants and chains with the O-Block insignia in them, according to prosecutors.
Surveillance images expected to be shown to the jury allegedly depict Bennett and Smart shopping for the pendants inside Icebox Diamonds & Watches in Atlanta on Aug. 10, 2020, six days after Weekly’s murder.
But the crux of the case against the O-Block defendants will be surveillance videos, which prosecutors say captured the shooting and the events leading up to it in real time.
Jurors will be shown store video from the Milani Boutique at 50 E. Oak St., showing Turpin and a friend walking in at 3:59 p.m. to shop for for the friend’s children, according to prosecutors. After Turpin saw Weekly in the store, he placed a call to his associates in Parkway Gardens to alert them, the prosecution filing stated.
At 4:02 p.m., cameras in the Parkway Gardens captured the other defendants snapping into action. Smart ran across a parking lot and up a flight of stairs, past a group that included Roberson, who turned and ran up the stairwell after him, prosecutors said the footage shows.
After a few minutes, Smart, Thomas, Roberson and Liggins were seen running back down the stairwell, prosecutors said. Most of them were wearing all black clothing. Smart and Offerd got into Offerd’s Ford Fusion — which he’d just purchased at a suburban dealership a week earlier — while Liggins, Thomas, and Roberson entered Roberson’s gray Chrysler 300. The cars took off from Parkway Gardens at 4:06 p.m.
A Chicago police license plate reader and multiple POD cameras captured the Chrysler and Fusion making the 10-mile trip to East Oak Street along the Dan Ryan Expressway and South DuSable Lake Shore Drive, according to the prosecution filing.
Along the way, Roberson was texting with an associate about a gun that the associate had been expected to return. Roberson told him to leave it at Parkway Gardens, because they had a bead on Weekly, according to prosecutors
“Take it to the O we on duck rn,” read the text, which prosecutors will introduce as evidence.
Meanwhile, Turpin left the Milani store and went to Moncler, a clothing retailer down the street at 33 E. Oak St. At about 4:10 p.m., the store security guard noticed Turpin was “speaking in a wild and agitated state” and began to record him, the prosecution filing stated.
Prosecutors said Turpin was recorded talking to several people, describing where he had seen Weekly and where he went after he left the Milani store. He was still on the phone when he left Moncler, talking loudly about Weekly’s former girlfriend, according to the filing.
“Turpin eventually stood across the street from Weekly on the phone for several minutes until Weekly was murdered at 4:26 p.m., walking over to Weekly to get a better look after Weekly had been gunned down,” the prosecution filing stated.
The video surveillance of the shooting showed two people, including Smart, getting out of the Fusion and shooting at Weekly while he was standing on the sidewalk. Weekly and a victim who was in line behind him tried to run but the shooters “aggressively pursued Weekly,” prosecutors wrote in the filing.
Liggins and Thomas then exited Roberson’s Chrysler, with Thomas seen standing over and shooting at Weekly while he was on the ground. The shooters got back into their respective vehicles and pulled away, according to prosecutors.
At 4:35 p.m., just nine minutes after the shooting, Offerd texted an employee at Bridgeview dealership where he’d purchased the Fusion and said he was “on his way to return the car to the dealership,” prosecutors said.
A former girlfriend of Offered’s is expected to testify she met him at the dealership on his instructions at about 5:30 p.m. that evening. After they returned the car, she gave Offerd, Smart and Offerd’s cousin a ride back to the South Side, according to prosecutors.
Roberson, meanwhile, continued his text message exchange with Cooperator 4, the person he’d told earlier “we on duck.”
At 4:40 p.m., while riding back to his neighborhood, Roberson allegedly texted Cooperator 4 to “check spot news,” a reference to a social media page that provides real-time updates on police activity, according to the prosecution filing. About 45 minutes later, after arriving back at Parkway Gardens, Roberson sent Cooperator 4 a link to a news story about Weekly’s slaying.
The next morning, Roberson allegedly sent another link to a news story about Weekly’s killing via Instagram to an associate.
“I know you ain’t take your car to go do this (expletive),” the associate texted back, according to prosecutors.
In response, Roberson allegedly shot back with an instruction: “Unsend that (expletive).”