November 12, 2010

Englewood man gets 35 years for Cisse murder

Three years after the death of graduate student Amadou Cisse (Ph.D. ’07), one of the men charged with his murder pled guilty Tuesday and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Cook County Circuit Judge Dennis Porter sentenced Jamal Bracey, a 20-year-old resident of the 6100 block of South Damen Avenue, to prison for the first-degree murder of Cisse.

Cisse, a 29-year-old chemistry student from Senegal, was shot in the chest outside his apartment by a gunman late on a November night in 2007. Cisse had already defended his dissertation and was three weeks away from receiving his Ph.D. He was awarded the degree posthumously.

The shooting led to an increased University Police presence on and around campus and a more prominent focus on transportation issues.

In addition to the 35 years he received for the murder, Bracey was sentenced to four years for a related burglary of a physician’s South Chicago residence. He allegedly stole the gun used in the homicide, the Chicago Tribune reported in January 2008.

Eric Walker and Benjamin Williams were also charged for first-degree murder in the case, but neither has pled guilty. A fourth man, Demetrius Warren, has been charged for his involvement in incidents leading up to the slaying, but was not charged for murder.

Cook County state attorneys didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“I’m happy that at least one of the four is off the streets, but at the same time I can’t help but feel bad because essentially they’re a bunch of kids,” said Christian Nauvel, one of Cisse’s friends from Bates College, his undergraduate institution.

Bracey was 17 at the time of the murder. Walker, Williams, and Warren, who were 16, 21, and 17 years old respectively, all have previous juvenile records or are being charged for other crimes, including robbery.

Police were led to the suspects from a witness’s description of the getaway car, the Tribune reported in November 2007. An image of the car was caught on a U of C Hospital’s surveillance camera, and the vehicle was traced to a neighbor of Walker’s, who said he loaned Walker the car for cash.

“Amadou was a very strong advocate for better conditions for kids who have the kind of upbringing that his murderers ended up having. He had a strong connection with the African-American communities and...helping underprivileged people,” said Nauvel, who was a law student at Northwestern at the time of the murder. “It’s very sad that he died the way he did.”

Cisse was highly involved with the Muslim community on campus and was preparing to see his family back in Senegal when he died.

“He was so close to going back home having accomplished his academic starting a new life that would impact so many people,” Bill McCartney, director of the International House when Cisse lived there, said in an e-mail.

Administrators said Cisse’s legacy persists at the University, where he spent six years researching the process of molecular movement through polymers.

“We will never forget Amadou Cisse,” said Vice President of Campus Life Kim Goff-Crews in an email. “He brought pride to Chicago and his native Senegal as a talented scientist, a devoted son, a faithful brother, and a caring friend.”

He had a lasting impact on students, faculty, and staff, like McCartney, who is now an administrator at East Carolina University.

“He was someone who got involved with the activities of the House and had a smile for everyone he would meet,” McCartney said. “He often volunteered to help House staff as we set up programs.”

Bates has also been working to memorialize Cisse in a concrete way, according to Nauvel.

“Our initial thought was to try to raise money and attach his name to a scholarship, but his family was against that idea...they didn’t want any Senegalese students to come to the U.S.,” Nauvel said, adding that Bates College is exploring other ways to memorialize him.

Bracey’s sentencing came 10 days before the third anniversary of Cisse’s death.