The cold case of two men found in March 1998 in an Aurora alley, shot to death and burned, has come to a close.
After a four-day trial, a Kane County jury convicted Jaime M. Diaz, 35, of Aurora, of two counts of first-degree murder.
Diaz faces mandatory life in prison after being found guilty of shooting Brendon Anderson, 21, of North Aurora, and Elias Calcano, 21, of Aurora, while in Anderson's Cadillac on March 15, 1998, then beating Calcano, running him over and lighting both bodies on fire.
"The defendant, ladies and gentlemen, he committed this crime and tried to cover it up. Now, 15 year later, it is time that he pays for it," said Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Greg Sams in his closing arguments.
Diaz was charged as part of a joint cold case investigation by the FBI, Aurora police and Kane County authorities.
Prosecutors argued that on that March night, Diaz shot Anderson and Calcano while they were sitting in the front seats of Anderson's car in an alley. Anderson was killed from a shot to the head, but Calcano was struck in the right rear side of his neck. Calcano's head and face was severely beaten before he was run over with the car and both bodies set on fire.
In the four-day trial, prosecutors called DNA experts who testified that Diaz's DNA matched the DNA on a beer bottle found in the back seat of the car. A former gang member, Jason Peterson also testified that he went for a ride with Diaz, also a gang member, and the two victims and that Diaz shot both from behind.
At least three other people testified that they smelled gasoline on Diaz when driving with him later that night. Sams also argued that Diaz threatened his girlfriend, who also is the mother of his children, and ordered her to make up a story when questioned by authorities.
"(The DNA) is compelling evidence that the defendant was in that car," Sams said,
Assistant Public Defender Greg Brown argued that Peterson could have committed the murders and made a deal to testify in the case only if prosecutors agreed not to use his statements against him.
"Keep in mind Jason's motive and bias here," Brown said. "He can't say anything that's going to get him in trouble."
Brown also warned jurors not to give the beer bottle "iconic status" just because it was DNA tested.
But Sams said Peterson was hesitant to finger Diaz because that would go against gang code and open Peterson up to retribution and retaliation. Sams also noted that Peterson testified that Diaz was drinking beer in the back seat of the car that night.
"The fact that that beer bottle is there and the fact that it has the defendant's DNA on it gives credibility to Jason Peterson," Sams said. "Crimes conceived in hell do not have angels as witnesses."
A sentencing date was not immediately available for Diaz, who also filed a motion after the verdict claiming his defense attorney ineffective.
The case against Diaz was one of two unrelated double-murder trials in Kane County this week.
The second case is tentatively scheduled for closing arguments this morning. Authorities have charged Michael J. Reyes, 40, of Aurora, with the murders of Montgomery brothers Francisco and Jesus Montoya, 18 and 19 respectively. They were found shot to death in their family van on Aurora's east side on March 9, 1993. Prosecutors have argued that Reyes killed the men in a drug deal.
Diaz is serving a 37-year prison sentence from an attempted murder conviction in Kane County in 2006.
If convicted, Reyes also faces a mandatory life sentence in prison.