Calling gang violence "a cancer," a Lake County judge sentenced a 19-year-old Mundelein man to 80 years in prison Tuesday for a 2009 firebombing that killed one person and injured two others.
Like his older brother before him, Edwin Hernandez rejected a prosecution offer to trade testimony against the gang leader accused of ordering the bombing in exchange for a lighter sentence.
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During the early hours of May 9, 2009, Edwin Hernandez, then 17, went with his brother Elver Hernandez, who was 20 at the time, to a house on the 200 block of Prospect Avenue in Mundelein.
Armed with a beer bottle full of gasoline and what police said were orders from Manuel Flores, then a 25-year-old from Round Lake, the brothers struck out at the residence of a family that had recently fled Grayslake to escape harassment by the gang.
As Elver Hernandez broke windows in the two-story house and cars parked near it, Edwin Hernandez heaved the firebomb on to the porch, igniting a blaze that trapped the occupants on the second floor.
Jorge Juarez, 12, died of smoke inhalation, while his mother, Virginia Estrada, 44, was left paralyzed when she jumped from the second floor and struck an air-conditioning unit on the ground.
Jorge's sister, Virginia Juarez, 14 years old at the time, suffered burns to her back, arms and hands that were so severe, a prosecutor said, she is unable to expose her skin to direct sunlight to this day.
Police said the target of the action, Jorge's 19-year-old brother, Raphael Juarez, had been fighting with Flores and other leaders of the gang but was not in the house when the bomb was thrown.
Assistant State's Attorney Dan Kleinhubert said Flores had issued a "smash on sight" order for Raphael Juarez, and the Hernandez brothers gladly took up the task.
"The gang ordered them to do it, and they did so because they respected the gang more than anything else," Kleinhubert said while asking for a sentence of 80 to 100 years in prison. "To this day, it is more important for them to be accepted by the gang than it is to be accepted by society."
Kleinhubert said he had offered the Hernandez brothers assurances of shorter sentences in exchange for their testimony against Flores, and both had turned him down.
As a result, both Hernandez brothers pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in connection with gang activity, which has a sentencing range of 60 to 100 years, instead of the normal sentencing range for murder of 20 to 60 years.
Elver Hernandez was sentenced to 84 years in prison on Aug. 15, while Flores is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 30.
Defense attorney Alex Rafferty tried to convince Circuit Judge Daniel Shanes that the 60-year minimum term was sufficient punishment for his client, who Rafferty claimed was recruited by his brother.
"This defendant was not even supposed to be a part of it; his older brother was supposed to go with another guy," Rafferty said. "But Elver Hernandez did not trust the other guy, so he asked his younger brother to go along."
Shanes said Edwin Hernandez was old enough to know right from wrong.
"Every family has a right to go to bed in their house at night secure in the knowledge that they will wake up in the morning," Shanes said. "You stole that from a family and you stole that from a community."
Shanes also took note of the fact Edwin Hernandez was in bed when police came to question him during the afternoon of the day of the fire.
"You set a house on fire and you were calm enough to go home and get a good night's sleep," Shanes told Hernandez, who declined to speak on his own behalf. "That tells me a lot about you."