PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A busload of supporters are rallying behind an Illinois man facing a new trial, after the initial one in April ended in a hung jury.

Anthony Gay, who spent more than 20 years in solitary confinement on unrelated charges, represented himself in the initial trial. He is charged with possession of a firearm by a felon and possession of ammunition by a felon stemming from a 2020 incident with Rock Island police.

“I’m a pro se defendant. I got mental health problems, and for a lack of a better term, I showed them up. So now they want blood. But they don’t realize I’m the litigation Mohammed Ali. I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” said Gay.

Supporters following Gay’s legal journey came down from Chicago for the pretrial conference on Monday at the Central District of Illinois Federal Courthouse in Peoria. Many are mothers whose sons are in the Illinois criminal justice system. They allege the government is retaliating against Gay with trumped-up charges because they didn’t win the first time.

“They’re trying to put another case on him, to get him convicted, to get him locked up, because he already embarrassed the county,” said Jasmine Smith. “They’re going to keep picking at him…they want him behind bars to shut him up. He too loud right now. So anytime us colored people get loud, what’s the first thing they do… try to shut us up. And that’s what they are doing to Anthony Gay.”

“The officer testified that he didn’t have a gun. The cameras said he didn’t have a gun. This is just a witch hunt,” said James Gibson.

Gay’s legal woes started in 1994 as a teenager when he pled guilty to robbery. He said he developed mental health issues while in prison. Those issues contributed to a longer prison stay, the majority in solitary confinement. He was released from prison in 2019 because of mental health issues and has since become an advocate for criminal justice reform.

Gibson, an exonerated Chicago police torture survivor, said he spent time in prison with Gay and is now supporting him to get justice.

“I’m standing here in support of Anthony Gay. He is the poster child of mental health here in America. I witnessed for 20 years, him cutting on himself, cutting his testicles, cutting on his arms and his legs, pleading out for help. I witnessed the staff not being qualified,” he said.

Gay’s supporters claimed the second trial timeline is being rushed and not given enough time to prepare.

“The judge is rushing his trial date. He doesn’t even have the trial papers that he needs,” said Smith. “So how is this man able to even properly prepare to argue against them when ya’ll giving him everything he needs late, and so close to his trial date. So its just another sad situation, another scene of the government overpowering us colored people and just try to throw us to the wolves.”

“The judge is sending him back to trial on May 16 when they just issued subpoenas today and transcripts, for him to be prepared to go against three federal State’s Attorney’s…prosecutors…and without any help,” said Gibson.

Gay said he is encouraged by community support to continue the fight for a better criminal justice system.

“For me, there’s no fight like the good fight and what better fight than to fight for justice for the people. So I’m going all the way, and I’m going to leave my heart and soul in the courtroom, and hopefully this time, it won’t be a hung jury, it’s an acquittal,” he said.

The Central District of Illinois declined to comment on Gay’s case.

The trial is on May 16.