Student held without bond in stabbing deaths of roommates

CHICAGO — Tall, athletic and bright, DeJuan Pratt seemingly had everything going for him, according to his family. He graduated college in Ohio with a double-major in business and marketing, lettered in track and football, and moved to Chicago over the summer to pursue a masters degree.

In late August, Pratt moved into an apartment in the city’s West Rogers Park neighborhood after the couple who lived there placed an ad on Craigslist looking for a third roommate. “He said it was a nice place and that he had roommates, that’s all,” said Pratt’s mother, Terri Starr.

On Wednesday, Pratt, 24, was ordered held without bond on charges he fatally stabbed the roommates, Gary Brown, 64, and Chun Xiao Lee, 48, five days after he moved in. Prosecutors said the Roosevelt University graduate student lit the apartment on fire to cover up the crime, drove around in Lee’s car after the murders and later used both victims’ credit cards to finance a trip to Las Vegas.

Detectives who were looking to question Pratt about the murders caught a break on Sunday when Pratt posted on Facebook from a hotel on the Vegas strip, authorities said.

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“Chilling right now — at The Venetian Las Vegas,” read the post, which was still visible on Pratt’s Facebook page Wednesday.

When police arrested Pratt the next day at O’Hare International Airport, he was carrying the victims’ credit cards, Assistant State’s Attorney Jamie Santini said in court. Pratt was charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery, unlawful possession of a credit card, identity theft, possession of a stolen motor vehicle and aggravated arson.

On learning of the charges from a Chicago Tribune reporter on Wednesday, Pratt’s mother and grandmother reacted with disbelief. He had grown up in a loving, churchgoing family and had no history of violence, they said.

“I know my baby — I don’t believe it,” Starr said in a telephone interview from Ohio. “It just doesn’t even sound like him.”

Police and firefighters were called to the third-floor apartment at about 3:45 p.m. on Aug. 28 after reports of a fire. Brown and Lee were found lying side-by-side on a bed, wrapped in blankets. Officers found a partially melted gasoline container on the kitchen floor, according to police. Both victims had been repeatedly stabbed, Santini said.

Brown was formerly an attorney who in his youth pitched in the minor leagues. About a year ago, he moved into Lee’s apartment,, according to Brown’s ex-wife.

Detectives learned Pratt had filed a report with police on the day of the murders in which he claimed to have been attacked by three unknown offenders and sustained a deep slash wound to his left hand, Santini said.

Last week, a police sergeant spotted Lee’s missing Acura being driven by a man matching Pratt’s description, Santini said. After his arrest, Pratt initially denied any knowledge of the murders or arson, but he later admitted he was in the apartment at the time of the killings, Santini said. He also admitted taking the Acura, stealing the victims’ credit cards and using them to make purchases in Las Vegas, the prosecutor said.

Pratt also admitted his claims of being attacked by unknown offenders was false, Santini said.
The 6-feet-5-inch, 235-pound Pratt stood in court dressed in a T-shirt and dark jeans, his hair pulled back in long dreadlocks. He bowed his head as details of the alleged crime were read.

Pratt graduated in the spring from Central State University near Dayton, Ohio. He also ran track and played football for the school’s Division II team, where his father, DeJuan Pratt Sr., is an assistant coach, according to the university.

“He is an educated, upstanding university graduate who came here to further his education,” his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Julie Koehler, said after the bond hearing.


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