A Cook County jury deliberated a little more than three hours before finding a Chicago man guilty Thursday in the baseball bat beating of two women, including an exchange student from Northern Ireland who suffered such severe brain injuries that she is now unable to walk and can barely speak.
The jurors convicted Heriberto Viramontes of attempted murder, armed robbery and aggravated battery so quickly that it was clear they had little trouble dismissing the contention by Viramontes' attorneys that their client was a victim of mistaken identity. The 34-year-old Viramontes did not testify.
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Stacy Jurich, one of the Viramontes' victims, cried and hugged the mother of exchange student Natasha McShane after the verdict was announced.
"I had to fight for Natasha and will continue to do so," said Jurich, 27, of Chicago, noting the period since the attack has been the most difficult of her life. "It's comforting to know that justice has been served."
Prosecutors said before the attack, McShane was excited about coming to Chicago to study and experience all the city has to offer. She was studying urban planning at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
When asking the jury to find Viramontes guilty, Assistant State's Attorney Margaret Ogarek emphasized how the city of Chicago embraced the victims after the attack.
"You tell him that we are not going to take that here in this city, in this county, in this state," she said.
Viramontes faces up to 120 years in prison.
During the trial, prosecutors contended that Jurich and McShane were walking home on April 23, 2010, after a night of dinner and drinks when Viramontes stepped out of the shadows of a viaduct and smashed them over the head and robbed them.
One of the most dramatic moments of the trial came when Jurich described feeling excruciating pain during the attack and hearing the sound of the bat striking her head. She said she turned around in time to see the man smash McShane over the head with such force that the young woman fell face first onto the pavement.
Sheila McShane also testified, telling the jury about how her daughter used to be vibrant and a talented sketch artist, but now is in a wheelchair and mainly communicates by pointing. And when she does draw today, the mother said, all she can do is scribble.
She showed the court a video of her 27-year-old daughter shortly after the attack when she appeared to be recovering and then after a massive seizure she had later. She said it was the seizure that left her daughter in a wheelchair and speechless.
Prosecutors had no eyewitness to the attack who could point Viramontes out as the one who carried it out, and Jurich was unable to identify Viramontes as her attacker.
However, prosecutors did have Viramontes' former girlfriend and getaway driver as a witness. Marcy Cruz testified that she drove to Chicago's crowded Bucktown neighborhood where, she said, Viramontes told her that "he wanted to rob them" -- referring to people on the street.
Cruz, who pleaded guilty, agreed to testify in exchange for a 22-year prison sentence.
Prosecutors also played recordings of Viramontes' jailhouse telephone conversations, in which he said, "I probably hit her once."
In defense of Viramontes, Assistant Public Defender Chandra Smith told the jurors her client does not fit the description of the attacker that Jurich initially gave.
"We don't know who did this, but we do know it was not Mr. Viramontes," she said.
Ogarek dismissed the defense's argument as "fantasy."