On April 11, Cook County Associate Judge Lauren Edidin sentenced Wesley Woodson III, 27, to 71 years in prison for the murder of Dajae Coleman and the attempted murder of other others, when he fired five shots into a small group of high-schoolers returning from a party on Sept. 22, 2012.

Mr. Woodson was tried and found guilty in 2017.

The judge gave a sentence of 45 years for the first-degree murder of Dajae Coleman and additional years, as consecutive sentences, for attempted murder. The 45-year sentence allows no parole. After that, Mr. Woodson must serve 85% of the remainder, and he will receive credit for the six-and-one-half years already spent incarcerated since his arrest in 2012. 

Dajae, then 14, was shot as he walked with friends in the 1500 block of Church Street at approximately 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 22. Mr. Woodson then lived in the 1600 block of Ashland Avenue, a short distance from where the shooting occurred. Police arrested him within a few weeks of the shooting.

At the sentencing hearing, Dajae’s parents, Tiffany Rice and Robert Coleman, each read an impact statement. Ms. Rice read “14 Reasons Why,” which began, “January 22, 1998, my life as I once knew it changed,” and she described milestones in each year of Dajae’s 14 years. “When he was 14, although I wasn’t prepared for it, he earned a seat in heaven. On September 22, 2012, when he was 14, he was murdered; he was taken away from me far too prematurely.” Turning to Mr. Woodson, she said, “Wesley, I hope this has given you the chance to know Dajae, since you were one of the unfortunate ones who never got to meet him.”

Ms. Rice told the RoundTable, “It’s so hard to live day-to-day without his being here.” With the sentencing, nearly five years after the trial, Ms. Rice estimates she has been in court nearly 60 times.  “I have to restart my life, post-court. … Now it’s finding out what the rest of my life looks like.”

After he son was killed she created the Dajae Coleman Foundation, to “celebrate and to mourn” him. Giving too much time to the foundation, “I felt I was mentally and emotionally depleted” and has now stepped back from that. 

“Now it’s finding out what the rest of my life looks like – starting from square one and re-writing the rest of my life,” she said.

The summer before his freshman year, Dajae and his cousin Trevor accompanied their grandfather Michael Rice, Dajae’s grandfather took Dajae and his cousin Trevor to the gym for weight-training, since the boys were both athletes.

“I did this for my son when he was in high school and saw the benefit, so I got them involved in weight-training,” Mr. Rice told the RoundTable. “Dajae was very confident, very competitive,” he said. “We got there at 4:30 a.m., which is when the gym opened. I was like a drill sergeant. One lady said she felt sorry for the boys [because I was tough]. A man there told them often how lucky there were to have me do this for them.” He said he enjoyed seeing the progress they made.  It was very exciting to see them want to show their stuff at ETHS. Dajae didn’t get that opportunity.”

Mr. Rice said, “It was satisfying that the Judge imposed the maximum sentence he could get – that she was able to see through his smoke. The State’s Attorney did an awesome job, and the police officers were very sympathetic. We had the greatest amount of support you could expect. We are forever indebted to the prosecutorial team. That helped with the pain –they worked so tirelessly to see this guy was prosecuted.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Rice said, “The pain is there – it’s there for life.”

Commander Ryan Glew of the Evanston Police Department said the Judge followed the sentencing guidelines. “My conversation with the State’s Attorney was that it was the minimum sentence, given what Mr. Woodson was charged with.”

The sentence was handed down nearly seven years after the shooting occurred. “I think it was about five years or so for it to come to trial,” said Cmdr. Glew. “The follow-on sentencing has taken quite a bit of time for various reasons.”

Cmdr. Glew also said, “We have two families of the Evanston community that will have suffered loss – both in different ways, both in different accountability.

“Dajae’s family lost him as the victim of a homicide, and the Woodson family lost [Wesley] – as the offender, convicted, who is going to spend 60 or 70 years in jail. That’s not lost on the Evanston Police Department – that this affects two families, the family of the victim and the family of the offender.

“It was a trial; [Mr. Woodson] was convicted by a jury; he was sentenced appropriately. We’ll stand by the jury’s decision and the sentencing, but the Police Department recognizes it as a loss for two families in this community.”

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...