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updated: 6/12/2014 6:55 PM

Hernandez guilty in shooting death of 5-year-old

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  • Eric Galarza Jr.

      Eric Galarza Jr.

  • Miguel Hernandez Jr.

      Miguel Hernandez Jr.

 
 

Jurors on Thursday found Miguel Hernandez Jr. guilty of murder in the 2011 shooting death of a 5-year-old Elgin boy.

They also found the 29-year-old Hernandez guilty of attempted murder and of personally discharging a firearm in the commission of a homicide. The latter conviction adds a mandatory 25 years to Hernandez's sentence, which already ranged from 25 years to natural life in prison.

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The verdict announcement came shortly after 11 a.m. after more than seven hours of deliberations that began Wednesday afternoon.

"He was stoic," said defense attorney Ralph Meczyk of his client's reaction to the verdict.

Meczyk said he respected the jury's decision but added, "I'm profoundly sorry."

He indicated he and co-counsel Damon Cheronis will look over the trial record for issues warranting appeal.

Hernandez and his attorneys next appear in court July 11 for post-trial motions.

The family of Eric Galarza Jr. left the Rolling Meadows courthouse accompanied by Cook County sheriff's deputies. They declined to comment on the verdict. Hernandez's family also declined to comment.

According to testimony, Hernandez, an admitted gang member, fired six semiautomatic rounds into a car in which the victim, his parents, two younger siblings and aunt were riding at about 7 p.m. Oct. 7, 2011. One of the bullets struck the boy, who died from a single gunshot wound to the head. No one else was injured in the shooting, which occurred as the family left their Elma Drive home to return a rented film while on the way to a relative's house for dinner.

Prosecutors said the shooting was payback for Eric Galarza Sr., a member of the same gang as Hernandez, who in 2006 worked as a paid informant as part of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigation. Galarza wore a wire and informed on fellow gang members, resulting in several arrests and convictions, prosecutors said. In exchange for his cooperation, authorities dismissed several drug cases against him.

Galarza Sr. is serving a three-year prison sentence for domestic battery and a one-year sentence for violation of bail bond. He has domestic battery and delivery of a controlled substance charges pending in Kane County, said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney David Weiner.

Hernandez fired into the vehicle intending to hit the elder Galarza but instead hit the boy, prosecutors said.

Meczyk and Cheronis said police arrested the wrong man. They challenged the credibility of Galarza and his wife, Denisse Galarza, both of whom lied to police immediately after the shooting, telling them they didn't know who shot at them. Six months later Denisse Galarza told police it was Hernandez, her second cousin. Just last month Galarza named Hernandez as the shooter. He explained the delay when he testified earlier this week, saying he wanted to handle the matter himself.

Cheronis also suggested police pressured key prosecution witness Carlos Lopez, a Hernandez co-worker who testified Hernandez gave him a gun to hold several hours after the murder. Lopez also testified that Hernandez told him he fired at a guy but hit a kid instead. Cheronis said police threatened Lopez with weapons and accessory charges if he didn't cooperate.

Cook County Assistant State's Attorney David Weiner rejected their claim, pointing out that it was not easy for Lopez to testify, given his knowledge of what Hernandez had done.

Lopez is "as clean-cut as they come," said Weiner after the verdict announcement. "He had no reason to lie."

Weiner reminded jurors during closing arguments that Denisse Galarza and Eric Sr. both identified Hernandez as the shooter, and that a neighbor identified him as the man running away from the scene minutes after she heard shots fired.

Weiner called Hernandez's claims that another gang member fired the fatal shot "self-serving" during his closing argument.

If the other man did the shooting, why did Hernandez tell Lopez he did it? Weiner asked. And why did he ask Lopez to hold the gun?

"The defendant is presumed innocent when he takes the stand, but he's not presumed truthful," said Weiner, referring to Hernandez's testimony Wednesday morning. "He would say anything to get out from under this. He would say whatever he can to beat this case."

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