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updated: 2/4/2014 4:05 PM

Trial begins in Round Lake Beach shooting of Zion teen

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  • Jose Garcia

    Jose Garcia


Jose Garcia of Mundelein gunned down Gabriel Gonzalez outside of a minimart last March because the Zion teen disrespected the gang member, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

However, the defense attorney for Garcia, 19, countered that a second gang member present during the shooting of the Gonzalez was the real triggerman, and that authorities coerced Garcia to take the blame.

The murder trial kicked off in front of Judge Daniel Shanes in Lake County court Tuesday morning. Garcia faces up to 75 years in prison if found guilty of the most serious charge.

Defense attorney James Schwarzbach said police botched the investigation by arresting Garcia when it was fellow gang member Jose Rebollar-Vergara, 26, of Round Lake Park, who pulled the trigger that killed Gonzalez.

He said video surveillance that captured the murder is too unclear to determine who fired the 22-caliber handgun 10 times at the 18-year-old Gonzalez.

"Jose Rebollar is the man who fired the bullet that killed Gabriel Gonzalez," Schwarzbach told the jury. "(Garcia's) confession was false and utterly coerced."

Schwarzbach said Garcia confessed after authorities threatened to withhold police protection for the Mundelein gang member's family should they require it.

"Everyone in this courtroom agrees that Gabriel Gonzalez did not deserve to die," Schwarzbach said, before pointing at Garcia. "But it (the murder) was not committed by that young man there."

Authorities said Garcia and Rebollar-Vergara confronted Gonzalez inside the One Stop Food and Liquor Store in the 1000 block of Fairfield Road at 12:40 a.m. on March 10 and wrongly assumed he was a gang member because of the way the Zion teen wore his hat.

After words were exchanged inside the store, authorities said, Rebollar-Vergara and Garcia followed Gonzalez into the parking lot where the argument continued.

It was then, authorities said, that Garcia pulled out the handgun and fired at Gonzalez. He died when a bullet struck his aorta.

Schwarzbach said police corrupted the videotape evidence by giving prosecutors a low-resolution copy.

Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Reginald Mathews said the video doesn't show the gun, but it does show Garcia walking toward Gonzalez seconds before Gonzalez fell to the ground.

In addition, he said, gunshot residue was found on Garcia's sweatshirt after the shooting. That sweatshirt was recovered by police and will be introduced as evidence during the trial, he said.

"Gabriel chose to walk away from a confrontation with this gang," Mathews said. "That was disrespect to these guys."

Rebollar-Vergara remains in custody in Lake County jail and also faces three counts of first-degree murder.

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