A known gang member fears for his safety in Cook County jail, his attorney says, after the man was charged in the slaying of Elgin 5-year-old Eric M. Galarza Jr. in what authorities describe as an attempt on the life of the dead boy's father.
Miguel Hernandez Jr., 27, of the 1100 block of Maple Street in Aurora, who is related to the victim, is facing one count of first-degree murder. He was denied bond during a brief hearing Saturday at the Cook County circuit court in Rolling Meadows.
Public defender Daniel Naranjo told the court Hernandez fears his life is at risk in the county jail, but the judge refused a defense counsel request to provide Hernandez with protective custody.
Naranjo said he made the request based on the nature of the charges and the alleged association between the defendant and the dead boy's father, who has a lengthy criminal record and who, according to authorities, was the intended target of the shooting.
Assistant State's Attorney David Weiner said Hernandez was identified by two witnesses in a lineup, and he gave police a videotaped statement implicating himself in the shooting.
Eric was in a car with his parents, two younger siblings and aunt Oct. 7 when he was shot as the car pulled out of the family's driveway on the 900 block of Elma Avenue. Eric's mother, Denisse Galarza, said they were on their way to dinner at Eric's great-grandmother's house.
Police said the shooting specifically targeted the car, and Weiner said the victim's father was the intended target. Eric Galarza had no comment when asked about that Saturday afternoon after an anti-gang violence march that honored his son in Elgin.
In court, Weiner said Hernandez fired shots at the car after stepping out of a black Toyota Tundra, where two other people were sitting. One of the shots hit 5-year-old Eric above his right eye; he died later that night at Sherman Hospital in Elgin.
Hernandez then got back into the Toyota Tundra, registered to his father, and drove to Gameworks in Schaumburg, where he handed the murder weapon to someone else, Weiner said.
Hernandez was caught on tape near the location of the shooting, along I-90 and at Gameworks; and shell casings found at the murder scene matched the 9 mm pistol recovered by police, Weiner said. He also gave a third-party statement admitting his involvement, Weiner said.
In a news release, Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said the Elgin community helped lead to the arrest with multiple tips. "This man killed a 5-year-old child, and tonight he is behind bars because our community recognized that this behavior is not acceptable in Elgin," he said.
"This investigation, led by our gang unit, involved every division within our department," Swoboda said. "I'm proud with how we all worked collaboratively to take this killer off the street."
Court records show Hernandez served 4½ years in prison for attempted murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm in 2004 and 3 years in prison for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon in 2002.
Eric's grandmother Vianey Bahena said she was pleased to learn about the arrest. "We really need police to do more to protect the people," she said.
A relative who participated in the Saturday march said Hernandez is related to the victim. Gloria Gerardo of Elgin told the Daily Herald that Hernandez's father is a cousin of Eric's grandmother.
"We're nobody to judge," said Gerardo, a second cousin of Eric's mother. "It is so hard because (Miguel Hernandez Jr.) is family to Denisse."
Court records show that Eric Galarza has a criminal history dating back to 2000, when he pleaded guilty to aggravated discharge of a firearm and was sentenced to nine years in jail. In 2004, he pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm and was sentenced to three years in jail. In 2008, he was sentenced to 10 days in jail for resisting a police officer.
Eric Galarza is due in court Nov. 3 on a pending charge of aggravated battery with great bodily harm.
That same day, Hernandez is due in court in Rolling Meadows for a preliminary hearing on the murder charge.
Elgin police continue to investigate. Anyone with more information related to the case is encouraged to contact the department's anonymous tip line at (847) 695-4195 or go to the city's website at cityofelgin.org/police and follow the link to leave an anonymous text.