A Cook County jury deliberated for about an hour before convicting Edwin Paniagua of murdering Jean Louis Wattecamps of Mount Prospect.
"I think the jury saw things as they were," Wattecamps' sister, Marie Schutt, said after hearing the verdict Tuesday. "It's still a sad day for all of us."
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She expressed sympathy for Paniagua's mother, who wept as the verdict was given for her 19-year-old son. "She's lost her son, too," Schutt said.
The jury also found Paniagua guilty of "brutal and heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty," making him eligible for a sentence of 20 years to life. He returns to court Sept. 18 for post-trial motions. Paniagua also faces charges of soliciting a Cook County jail inmate to murder his co-defendant Marko Guardiola. Those charges are pending.
Prosecutors argued that while Paniagua did not deliver the fatal blows, he was responsible for Wattecamps' death on July 21, 2010.
"The law doesn't allow partners-in-crime to wash their hands" of each other's offenses, said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Shilpa Patel, who acknowledged it was Guardiola, 41, who stabbed the American Eagle baggage handler to death during a robbery attempt. Guardiola, a Chicago gang member, pleaded guilty earlier this year to murdering Wattecamps and was sentenced to 33 years in prison.
The law recognizes the significance of teamwork, said Patel, who insisted Paniagua was "right alongside Marko Guardiola -- his partner-in-crime -- side-by-side, aiding and abetting."
Paniagua's attorney, Cook County Assistant Public Defender Joe Gump, refuted the allegation. Gump insisted in his closing argument that his then-15-year-old client feared Guardiola, whom Gump described as an "evil, narcissistic, sociopath" and a "career criminal" who became angry and violent after consuming alcohol.
Paniagua feared Guardiola might hurt or kill him if Paniagua didn't "bend to his will," Gump said. "Edwin was somebody (Guardiola) could manipulate, someone he could groom."
Watching Guardiola beat and stab to death a stranger made Paniagua realize he could be next, Gump said.
Last week, Guardiola's ex-girlfriend Erica Yanez testified she and Guardiola met Wattecamps, 52, for the first time the afternoon before the murder while hanging out and drinking with acquaintances at the Colony Apartments swimming pool. Yanez testified they spent several hours with Wattecamps, who treated the group to dinner at a nearby fast food restaurant and then invited them back to his apartment. The group dispersed about midnight, said Yanez, who testified that Guardiola and Paniagua returned later. She told jurors Wattecamps -- whom prosecutors described as "kindhearted, hospitable and generous" -- let the trio in after she knocked on his door and asked to use the restroom. Within minutes, said Yanez, Guardiola had Wattecamps in a headlock. He struck the man and demanded money while Paniagua searched the apartment, Yanez said. Paniagua found a knife in a dresser drawer, which she said he held to Wattecamps' throat. She also testified Paniagua rifled through the victim's pockets, bound his feet, kicked him several times in the torso and used a cloth to muffle Wattecamps' cries.
Gump stated that Paniagua, who told police he met Guardiola about a month before the murder, did not know about plans to rob Wattecamps. However, Paniagua told police during a videotaped interrogation played for jurors that Guardiola called him about midnight on July 20, 2010, and asked to meet him. They met at a convenience store near Paniagua's home and Wattecamps' apartment. With Guardiola were two other gang members. Paniagua told detectives Guardiola said they were going to "hit a lick" (slang for rob someone). Paniagua said the other men left after Guardiola was unable to find his way back to Wattecamps' apartment.
Paniagua was "in it up to his eyeballs," said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Karen Crothers. "If he willingly participated in the robbery, he's guilty of first-degree murder."