Cook County Circuit Court Judge Larry Axelrood fully comprehended the thankless task facing him as he prepared to sentence 20-year-old Ashur Hidou for the stabbing death of Des Plaines resident Israel Moreno.
"I am certain to please no one with this sentence," said Axelrood, who convicted Hidou, also of Des Plaines, of first-degree murder following a three-day bench trial in April.
It certainly did not please Moreno's mother, America Miramontes, who exited the Skokie courtroom in tears after hearing the court impose a 35-year prison term on her son's killer.
"How can he get only 35 years for killing my son?" sobbed Miramontes to prosecutors outside the courtroom after the hearing.
Hidou and Moreno, 21, were onetime acquaintances and rival gang members, authorities said. But Axelrood pointed out gang affiliation was merely a "side note" to the attack.
Hidou claimed he killed Moreno in self-defense in the early morning of June 14, 2008 at the intersection of Laurel Avenue and Washington Street in Des Plaines because he feared Moreno would hurt him or a family with whom he was especially close. Moreno had gone to that family's apartment at about 2 a.m. to see his former girlfriend. Witnesses testified that Moreno called for the girl but she ignored him. As Moreno began to leave, Hidou, who was visiting the family at the time, approached. A fight ensued during which Hidou stabbed Moreno eight times.
Prosecutors acknowledged Hidou's lack of a criminal background, but still argued for substantial prison time citing a high school record that included truancy, gang activity and battery.
The Moreno family "is completely destroyed forever. There is absolutely no happiness whatsoever in their lives," said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Rick Cenar.
Miramontes described her son's "huge heart and "great sense of humor" in her victim impact statement, which Cenar read to the court. Known to friends and family as Kiki, the 21-year-old Moreno was the "family clown" who made it a point to cheer up others when they were down, she wrote.
"He was always worried if we were OK. I can now say that I'm not OK," Miramontes wrote. "The grief has been unbearable. We are left with emptiness and loneliness."
The nature of the attack made the 20-year minimum sentence inappropriate, Axelrood said, but the defendant's lack of a criminal background made the maximum 60-year sentence unwarranted. Although the court did not believe the defendant acted in self-defense, "it doesn't mean he wasn't trying to protect the family," Axelrood said.
That said, Axelrood continued, "his response that night was inappropriate on every level."
Miramontes took solace in the fact that Hidou must serve every day, less the 852 days he has spent in custody since his arrest.
Defense attorney Bill Murphy said that he will appeal the sentence.
If this case offers any lesson, said Cenar, it's that "people have to learn to walk away."
Miramontes said she harbors no ill will toward Hidou's family, who unlike hers could get their loved one back one day.
"They get to see (their son). I can't," she said. "I go to see him where he sleeps now."