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Jerry Lockhart Convicted Of Shopkeeper Vatsala Thakkar's Murder, Despite Being Outside The Store

First Posted: 12/13/10 02:15 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:20 PM ET

Lockhart
Jerry Lockhart.

In November of 2008, two teenagers burst into a Dollar Plus store in Hanover Park, robbed about $135 from the cash register, and stabbed Vatsala Thakkar, the clerk, twice in the back, leaving her to die in the parking lot.

Jerry Lockhart, 39, was standing outside the store at the time of the killing. But that didn't stop jurors from convicting him for first-degree murder in Thakkar's death on Friday.

According to prosecutors, Lockhart planned the robbery with Seneca Berry, now 17, and Dewaun Tate, now 19. He apparently watched while Tate stabbed Thakkar.

Later, when police were canvassing the neighborhood, an officer spoke with Lockhart. He told the policeman that he had seen Berry escaping through a nearby alley around the time of the murder.

This, it turned out, was an ill-advised ploy: Berry told police that Lockhart had put him and Tate up to the robbery, a claim that was backed up by other witness testimony.

The Chicago Sun-Times quotes the prosecuting attorney explaining to the jury why Lockhart was being tried for murder:

"Actual, physical presence at a crime scene is not a legal requirement," prosecutor Ken Tatarelis told jurors before they began deliberating. "The defendant is the leading force behind the armed robbery and the murder of Vatsala Thakkar."

The suburban Daily Herald has a more forceful quote from one of Tatarelis' fellow prosecutors:

"It's as if he took that knife and thrust it in Vatsala's back himself," Assistant State's Attorney Michael Pawl said in closing arguments.

Public defender Joan Pantsios tried to convince the jury that Berry was lying, giving a statement incriminating Lockhart to get back at him for placing Berry near the scene of the crime. "He needed to blame someone else. He was and is now a liar," Pantsios told the jury, according to the Tribune.

But they were apparently unmoved by this argument, convicting Lockhart of first degree murder and armed robbery. He could serve up to 60 years in prison.

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Filed by Will Guzzardi  |