RACINE — More than 20 years after a Racine man was gunned down inside a city tavern, his niece sat in a hearing room on Friday, seeing the man she says she has long known was her uncle’s killer finally charged in his death.

“It’s a relief they’ll finally be able to take somebody like that off the streets who has caused such physical harm,” said Teri Thomas, 37, of Racine, whose uncle, Andre McKinstry, was fatally shot on Aug. 14, 1994. “This has come to justice.”

Bond was set at $75,000 cash on Friday for John E. Clay, 45, of the 3300 block of Republic Avenue, who sat with his head in his left hand during his initial appearance in court. Racine County prosecutors charged Clay on Oct. 19 with first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting death of McKinstry, 24.

McKinstry was fatally shot at about 1:30 a.m. inside Steve & B’s tavern, 1224 16th St. McKinstry was shot five times, in the cheek, neck, chest and knee, but the fatal shot proved to be one in McKinstry’s neck that severed his jugular vein, according to autopsy results. Then the case went cold, until recently.

Racine County District Attorney Sharon Riek asked for $100,000 cash bond for Clay. Assistant State Public Defender Gretchen Rosenke countered that Clay “has no assets whatsoever,” and instead asked for “a reasonable bond.”

Court Commissioner Robert Goepel set Clay’s preliminary hearing for Nov. 11.

None of Clay’s family members attended his first court appearance.

‘Everyone was scared’

Afterward, McKinstry’s niece said for years she has known who killed her favorite uncle. Some people at the tavern that morning told her Clay shot him, she said.

But “everyone was scared to come forward,” she said after Friday’s court appearance. “(Clay) was threatening harm and violence against their families.”

She said she feels thankful that someone finally came forward. After 20 years, they don’t have the same degree of fear, she said.

“(Back then) he was really a threat. He’s older now. He’s not as much of a threat,” said Thomas, an accountant.

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She said her uncle was shot because “they had a woman in common.”

“There was animosity between John Clay and Andre McKinstry over McKinstry having contact with Clay’s girlfriend,” according to Clay’s criminal complaint.

Because McKinstry was shot multiple times in a crowded tavern, and no one else was injured, police believed that McKinstry was targeted. Some people were inside the bar at that time for a birthday party.

One man reportedly told investigators that he saw McKinstry enter the bar and begin talking with “Little John” Clay, according to the complaint. They exchanged words and Clay pulled out a handgun, fired it over the man’s head at McKinstry, and then fired “a number of other shots” in McKinstry’s direction, the complaint states. A second person reportedly corroborated this account.

McKinstry once was a standout linebacker and running back on the football team at Case High School. Clay is not the same John Clay who played for Park High School and the Wisconsin Badgers.

Thomas said she was 16 years old when her uncle died. She received the phone call notifying the family McKinstry had been shot, and vowed Friday to attend all of Clay’s future hearings.

“I’m happy someone finally said something,” she said.

Investigators reopened the cold case in 2009, along with some other unsolved homicides. These cases were reviewed in light of advances in DNA technology and other, unspecified “solvability” factors, according to police.

Members of the U.S. Marshals Service arrested Clay late last month in the Chicago area after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Thomas said she saw Clay about a year ago and asked him about her uncle’s death.

“He tried to deny it,” she said. “He said: ‘But I didn’t do it.’ ”

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