After seven hours of deliberations Wednesday, a Kane County jury acquitted Arnoldo Aguilar of charges that he gunned down a 26-year-old rival gang member in Aurora 12 years ago.
Aguilar, 27, of the 700 block of Superior Street, Aurora, and another man were charged with the killing in 2007 as part of an FBI-Aurora police investigation into cold cases.
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Aguilar and Julian Acosta, 29, of the 0-99 block of Pasadena Drive, Oswego, faced first-degree murder charges in the death of Brian Lambert on the city's east side on May 18, 2001.
Defense attorney Kathleen Colton said she and Aguilar were obviously pleased and elated with the not guilty verdict.
"My client burst into tears when the verdict was read. He said something to the effect of 'You saved my life,'" said Colton in a phone interview. "It wasn't a slam dunk by any means. But I was pleased with the way the evidence came out at trial."
The three-day trial lacked physical evidence such as fingerprints and DNA, but relied heavily on the testimony of former gang member Jose Aguirre, who cut a deal with authorities to avoid a life prison sentence and instead got eight years.
Aguirre testified that Aguilar and Acosta told him about the slaying the day after Lambert died, saying they were trying to become gang members by "hunting" rivals.
Greg Sams, the lead prosecutor in the case, urged the jury in closing arguments Wednesday morning to look at the consistencies in testimony from Aguirre and five others in the case: two armed men, clad in dark clothing and hoodies, sneaked up on Lambert while in his car on North Anderson Street and opened fire with different caliber weapons and later were separated as they fled.
"They escaped that night," Sams told the jury. "This defendant must not be allowed to escape today. He did it. He bragged about it and now it's time he pays for it."
Colton began her closing argument by flipping over a large white dry-erase board used by Sams to walk jurors through the laws.
"Now you have a blank slate. That's the state's case," she said. "Arnoldo Aguilar is innocent."
Colton stressed that three eyewitnesses to the shooting were unable to identify Aguilar in court as one of the shooters. She also pointed to inconsistencies in testimony from other witnesses, who said they picked up the two men at various locations and drove through neighborhoods cordoned off with police tape.
Colton also attacked the credibility of Aguirre, who she argued was making up a story to save his own skin.
Aguilar, who was out on bond and is now free, faced from 20 to 60 years in prison if convicted. And if the jury concluded he personally fired a weapon that killed Lambert, Aguilar faced 45 to 85 years in prison.
Acosta is free on bond. His trial is set for June 17.