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updated: 4/29/2014 10:08 PM

Willowbrook man guilty of first-degree murder in shooting

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  • Juan Cuellar

      Juan Cuellar

 
 

A DuPage County jury found a 25-year-old Willowbrook man guilty of first-degree murder Tuesday afternoon for the shooting death of 18-year-old Joshua Holmes.

The six-person jury deliberated less than three hours before finding Juan Cuellar, 25, of the 10S700 block of Lilac Lane, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder of Holmes, a Downers Grove Township resident. Holmes was shot to death Sept. 24, 2012, at the intersection of Honeysuckle Rose and Hyacinth lanes near Willowbrook.

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Cuellar faces 45 years to life in prison. No sentencing date was set following the verdict late Tuesday afternoon.

Cuellar testified during the four-day trial that on the day he shot Holmes he feared for his safety and that of his mother and younger brother.

Earlier in the month, Cuellar's younger brother, Christopher Hernandez, paid Holmes $90 for marijuana, but weeks went by and Holmes never delivered.

After a Sept. 6 confrontation in which Hernandez and Cuellar unsuccessfully tried to collect the money from Holmes, prosecutors said Cuellar went looking for Holmes on Sept. 24. And when he found him, he shot him.

"(Cuellar) was like a shark searching for something to eat, the way he circled the neighborhood looking for Joshua Holmes," Assistant State's Attorney Steve Knight told jurors during Tuesday's closing arguments.

During Cuellar's testimony late last week, he said he only wanted to talk to Holmes to tell him to leave his brother and family alone. But he said he reached for his Glock pistol and shot when he believed Holmes, who was approaching him, was reaching in his waistband for a gun of his own.

He said he went to the neighborhood to respond to a threat Holmes and his friends made to Hernandez earlier in the afternoon.

"Juan Cuellar never, never, never, wanted to kill Joshua Holmes that day," Cuellar's attorney Paul DeLuca told jurors Tuesday while pleading self-defense. "Joshua Holmes did things to put himself in the position where he was shot."

Assistant State's Attorney Cathy DeLaMar told jurors Tuesday that when Holmes approached Cuellar's car, he was not armed but was looking for a fistfight to "settle things."

"You don't bring a gun to a fistfight, shoot your opponent five times in the back and get to call that self-defense," DeLaMar said. "That's not how it works."

A forensic pathologist testified last week that Holmes was shot four times from behind and once in the arm.

Cuellar testified that, following the shooting, he concocted a plan, along with his ex-girlfriend, Hernandez, his mother and others, to disassemble the handgun, shave off any serial numbers and dump the gun in the Fox River in St. Charles. Cuellar then went into hiding and was eventually found in his father's basement in Gilberts.

Cuellar's mother, Elva Hernandez, 43, also of Willowbrook, was sentenced last April to two years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of obstruction of justice.

"He had just shot someone so he was scared," DeLuca said during closing arguments. "He was going to surrender. He knew it was over, but he was scared no one would understand."

Cuellar appears in court again May 28 for a sentencing pre-report.

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