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updated: 6/6/2014 1:08 PM

Prosecutors: 5-year-old was killed in payback attempt

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  • Miguel Hernandez Jr.

      Miguel Hernandez Jr.

  • Eric Galarza Jr.

      Eric Galarza Jr.

 
 

A 5-year-old Elgin boy was killed when a gang member took aim at a fellow gang member turned informant, Cook County prosecutors said Thursday as the trial began for the Aurora man they claim was the shooter.

Eric Galarza Jr. suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head on Oct. 7, 2011, after prosecutors say Miguel Hernandez, 30, fired into the car carrying the boy, his parents, two siblings and an aunt as they drove from their Elma Avenue home to return a rented movie. Hernandez is charged with first-degree murder.

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Hernandez intended to shoot the boy's father, Eric Galarza Sr., who had cooperated with federal authorities on their 2006 investigation into other Elgin gang members, Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Karen Crothers said. In exchange for his cooperation, federal agents paid Galarza and promised him "consideration" for a pending court case, Crothers said.

"He (Galarza) wore a wire. He did what was asked of him," she said. "He walked away with a smaller sentence and a target on his back."

He was done with the gang, but the gang wasn't done with him, Crothers said. Payback came in a hail of gunfire that claimed the life of a little boy, she said.

Defense attorney Damon Cheronis insisted to jurors that police "got the wrong guy."

Cheronis claims the elder Galarza and his wife gave inconsistent statements to police. He refuted prosecutors' claims that those inconsistencies resulted from fear.

"Eric Galarza is not afraid of anybody," Cheronis said.

The victim's mother, Denisse Galarza, testified her sister, who was driving, hit a curb trying to make a U-turn. Denisse Galarza said she saw flashes and heard bullets, then turned her head and saw Hernandez -- her second cousin, who goes by the nickname Yagi.

"I didn't want to believe it was him," said Denisse Galarza, who testified that she told her husband she believed Hernandez was the shooter but Eric Galarza told her not to say anything. She didn't reveal that information to police until six months later.

"You didn't say anything. You listened to your gang banger husband even though you knew who the killer was," defense attorney Ralph Meczyk said. Meczyk also confronted Denisse Galarza about giving the police a false name when they questioned her after the shooting because she had a warrant for a DUI and she feared they would not allow her to join her son at the hospital.

Carlos Lopez, 24, testified he met Hernandez the night of the murder at Gameworks in Schaumburg where Hernandez asked him to hide a gun.

"I didn't want to look like a wussy. I felt pressure, so I said yes," said Lopez, who testified Hernandez later told him he shot at a guy but accidentally hit a kid.

A man he didn't know and who accompanied Hernandez at Gameworks retrieved the gun the next day, Lopez said.

Lopez admitted he left out the part about the gun when he talked to police initially, saying, "I didn't want to be a snitch or a rat."

Testimony continues Monday.

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