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updated: 4/25/2014 7:52 PM

Defendant in Willowbrook slaying tells his side: 'I was scared'

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  • Juan Cuellar

    Juan Cuellar


Juan Cuellar says he feared for his life and the safety of his mother and brother on the September evening he fired five shots into 18-year-old Joshua Holmes.

Cuellar, 25, of Willowbrook, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Holmes that started with a dispute over $90 worth of marijuana.

During his testimony Friday, Cuellar outlined several weeks leading up to the Sept. 24, 2012, shooting that began with his younger half-brother Christopher Hernandez trying to buy pot from Holmes earlier in the month.

Though money was exchanged, the marijuana was never delivered, and on Sept. 6, the pair confronted Holmes and another man in the parkway of the Hinsdale Lakes apartment complex near Willowbrook where they all lived, Cuellar testified. He carried a Glock pistol and Hernandez wielded a brick-sized chunk of concrete. Cuellar said they were armed out of fear they would "get jumped" during the encounter.

"All I wanted to do was ask for the money. I asked, 'Where is it? Where did you spend it?'" Cuellar testified. "I then took the clip from my left pocket and the gun from my right, put it together, cocked it and pointed it at (Holmes') abdomen for two or three seconds."

Hernandez and Cuellar both testified Holmes ran and Hernandez chucked the concrete at him but missed. After the encounter, Cuellar said he felt "completely stupid" and "like an idiot" for letting the argument over $90 escalate to that point.

After the encounter, Cuellar stayed with a relative in Bensenville until the situation died down, warning Hernandez to "call the police if things got crazy."

On the afternoon of Sept. 24, Cuellar said he received a phone call stating that Holmes and some friends had shown up at a nearby restaurant where Hernandez had started working as a cook and threatened him.

Hernandez testified Friday that Holmes and about nine other men entered the restaurant and that Holmes sought him out. Hernandez said Holmes grabbed his pants near his pocket, indicating he had a weapon, and said "So, you got something for me? Well, I got something for you."

Cuellar testified he initially dismissed the matter but grew concerned and drove to an area near his mother's home in the complex and the restaurant, where he saw a group of men.

"I wanted to know if Joshua Holmes was one of those men," Cuellar said. "I needed to find a way to tell him to leave my brother alone."

Cuellar said he and Holmes made direct eye contact, and Cuellar parked his car near Honeysuckle Rose Lane and Hyacinth Drive.

"I went to my trunk, got my firearm, loaded it and cocked it, and put it on my console," Cuellar said. "Then I backed out of my spot and I saw Joshua Holmes standing on the corner and waving his friends to go away."

Words were exchanged again between the two men and Holmes approached Cuellar's car.

Cuellar said he yelled, "What's your problem?" to Holmes, who responded, "Man, what's up?"

"(Holmes) used his left hand to pull up the waist of his hoodie and his right hand to reach toward his waistband," Cuellar said. "I was scared he was pulling out a gun on me, so when he reached, I reached and I fired at him. I just kept firing at him."

Throughout the trial, however, prosecutors and several witnesses, including Cuellar, testified they never actually saw Holmes with a weapon.

A forensic pathologist also testified Thursday that Holmes likely was shot five times in the back, buttocks and arm.

After watching Holmes fall and convulse on the ground, Cuellar said he panicked and drove back to the relative's home in Bensenville where he, his ex-girlfriend and his mother concocted a plan to get rid of the gun.

The group drove to the house of his ex-girlfriend's mother in Glen Ellyn where Cuellar said he attempted to remove the serial numbers from the gun, punctured holes in the gun case and secured a weight to the case with duct tape.

The group then drove to the Fox River in St. Charles where Cuellar dumped two pieces of the gun in two separate locations. On their way back to Glen Ellyn, Cuellar said he dumped all of his remaining bullets in a sewer in Glen Ellyn's Panfish Park.

The group then stopped to buy beer before heading back to Bensenville.

"I was sad. I was scared," Cuellar said. "I needed something to calm my nerves."

The next day, Cuellar said, he drove to his father's home in Gilberts, where he and Hernandez were soon arrested.

Cuellar's ex-girlfriend and her mother's boyfriend were both granted immunity for their testimony against Cuellar. His mother, Elva Hernandez, pleaded guilty last April to obstruction of justice charges and was sentenced to two years in prison.

The case is expected to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday in courtroom 4004.

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