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WIU Shooter Sentenced

It's been nearly a year since Kavion Poplous shot his roommate in a Western Illinois University dorm, and three months since he pleaded guilty to a charge of Attempted First Degree Murder. Now Poplous knows how much time he will serve for the crime.

On Friday at the McDonough County Courthouse, Circuit Court Judge Bill Poncin sentenced Poplous to 18 years in prison.Listen to the story

Prosecutors Asked for a 30-Year Sentence

During the more than four-hour proceeding, Assistant State’s Attorney Scott Terry said Poplous tried to kill his roommate, Amarion Hargrove, and did so in a place that threatened harm to others who called the residence hall their home.

“This crime has shaken this community to the core,” the prosecutor said, adding that students come to WIU thinking they will be safe in Macomb. He said Poplous destroyed that belief.

Terry said the roommates had an altercation prior to the shooting but it wasn’t a serious provocation.

The shooting happened at around 10:30 p.m. on September 15, 2020 on the 12th floor of Thompson Hall. Terry said Poplous pulled a gun from his backpack, shot Hargrove five times while Hargrove was down on the floor, then slapped Hargrove in the face and said something to the effect of “What are you going to do now?”

Terry said Hargrove is lucky he did not die that day. He said Poplous deserved a severe punishment.

Detective Matt Haslam of the WIU Office of Public Safety said investigators recovered seven shell casings from the scene. 

The Defense Recommended a Four-Year Sentence

Authorities led Kavion Poplous out of the McDonough County Courthouse after Friday's sentencing hearing.
Credit Rich Egger
Authorities led Kavion Poplous out of the McDonough County Courthouse after Friday's sentencing hearing.

Defense attorney Justin Bougher said Poplous was the victim of bullying by Hargrove, and he said Hargrove shoved Poplous and threw a lock at him before the shooting. “This was a reaction to violence, not a random act of violence,” Bougher said.

He said Poplous had a clean record – not even a speeding ticket. Poplous was 18 at the time of the shooting and in his first weeks at WIU when the shooting happened. Bougher called Poplous a young kid who made a mistake.

During the hearing, members of Poplous’ family painted a picture of Kavion as kind, sweet, and giving person who was excited to come to WIU and get away from the rough Englewood neighborhood in Chicago where he grew up. They said his father was never in the picture and that Kavion witnessed several shootings while still a child. They said he was a hard worker and an honor roll student who enjoyed reading and basketball.

“My son is not what you’ve seen in the news. He’s a really sweet person,” said his mother, Tamara Topps.

Statements from Hargrove and Poplous

Amarion Hargrove did not attend the hearing but his victim impact statement was read into the record.

Hargrove said the shooting left him traumatized. He said he had to undergo surgery to remove six inches of his lower intestine and another surgery to have a rod inserted in one of his legs.

Hargrove said he can no longer pursue his dream of playing basketball for WIU “…because of Kavion’s cowardly act.”

He said he still faces physical and mental challenges, has trouble sleeping, and his educational journey is a challenge (Hargrove is back at WIU this fall).

Poplous told the court that he apologizes the to victim and his family. “If I could take it back, I would.”

He said he knows he should be punished, but he asked for a chance to learn from his mistakes and use his experience to help others.

The Judge’s Ruling

Judge Poncin made note of the violence Poplous witnessed as a child. “What does it take to stop this?” he asked about gun violence. The judge also said Poplous has a loving family.

But Poncin said he needed to impose a sentence that could deter others from doing the same thing. He said this was a routine squabble between roommates that grew into something larger, endangering the resident assistant who witnessed the shooting as well as others in the dorm at the time.

The judge said Poplous brought a gun onto campus, had no FOID card, and had a high capacity clip among his dorm room possessions. He said Poplous shot Hargrove multiple times even though Poplous testified that he was not at risk of serious injury.

Poplous must serve at least 85% of the 18-year prison sentence. He will also be required to serve three years of supervised release.

Poplous will get credit for time already served. He turned himself in to authorities in Chicago the day after the shooting and has spent much of the past year in the McDonough County Jail.

Post-Sentencing Reaction

As those who attended the hearing left the courthouse, Tamara Topps yelled at State’s Attorney Matt Kwacala from across the building’s north lawn.

“God’s going to break you down and you’re going to feel the same pain I feel,” she said. “Bullying should not be allowed at no school, no campus.”

She said she feared Hargrove will bully someone else.

As the family started driving away, Topps said she spoke with Kavion right after Poncin delivered the sentence. She said she told Kavion that she loved him.

Kwacala said Poplous will be in prison for a long time, and rightly so.

“He shot the guy five times while he was standing over him,” Kwacala said. “Mr. Hargrove has been suffering for the past year and he will suffer for the rest of his life. By the grace of God he’s still alive.”

Kwacala said it’s not known how Poplous acquired the gun.

Defense Attorney Justin Bougher said he was disappointed with the sentence.

“Obviously we were hoping for a lower number,” Bougher said. “I think Kavion is a good kid at heart. I think he made a horrible mistake but I understand where the judge is coming from with gun violence.”

When asked if he plans to appeal, Bougher said,” We’re going to explore all our avenues.”

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