No verdict yet on who shot Elgin 5-year-old

Updated 6/12/2014 12:15 AM
  • Eric Galarza Jr.

    Eric Galarza Jr.

  • Miguel Hernandez Jr.

    Miguel Hernandez Jr.

After more than six hours of deliberations, jurors did not reach a verdict in the trial of an Elgin man charged with the shooting death of 5-year-old Eric Galarza Jr.

Cook County Judge Bridget Hughes sent the jury home about 11 p.m. They will return to the Rolling Meadows courthouse at 10 a.m. today to resume deliberations.

The jury began deliberating the fate of Miguel Hernandez Jr. about 4:50 p.m. Wednesday after a long day of testimony that included two hours of impassioned closing arguments.

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

Prosecutors said Hernandez, an admitted gang member, had targeted the boy's father, fellow gang member Eric Galarza Sr. In 2006, Galarza began working as a paid informant as part of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigation into Elgin gang members. In that capacity, Galarza made authorized drug and gun purchases from fellow gang members and wore a wire. The information he supplied led to the arrest and conviction of several gang members, Elgin police said. For his cooperation, authorities dismissed several drug cases against him.

As a result, "Eric Galarza had a target on his back as big as a barn, and the defendant wanted to take aim at it," Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Mike Clarke said.

Hernandez, 29, might not have intended to hurt the youngster, Clarke said, "but the law doesn't excuse you if you miss your target."

The young boy's death "was as tragic a death as can be," defense attorney Damon Cheronis said during closing arguments.

"But convicting Miguel Hernandez is not going to do justice to Eric Galarza Jr., to Miguel or to the oath you (jurors) took," he said.

Cheronis argued prosecution witnesses were not credible because they changed their stories and lied to police during the initial investigation of the shooting.

Galarza and his wife, Denisse, never told police on Oct. 7, 2011, that Hernandez was the shooter, Cheronis said. Denisse Galarza waited six months to tell them she saw Hernandez firing at the car, Cheronis said. Galarza didn't tell authorities Hernandez was the shooter until last month, Cheronis said.

"You wouldn't trust these people in any situation in life, but the state wants you to believe them now," he said.

Those conflicting statements add up to reasonable doubt, Cheronis insisted.

Cheronis also pointed out that the neighbor who identified Hernandez as the man in the tank T-shirt she saw shortly after she heard gunshots failed to mention to police the multiple tattoos covering Hernandez, which he displayed for jurors.

"How could she miss his tattoos?" Cheronis said.

Regarding the co-worker who testified Hernandez gave him a gun to hold several hours after the murder and later admitted he shot at a guy but accidentally hit a kid, Cheronis suggested police obtained his statements by threatening him with firearm and conspiracy charges.

Motive in this case is clear, said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Dave Weiner. Hernandez wanted to pay Galarza back for snitching on fellow gang members.

"Miguel Hernandez took matters into his own hands. He didn't have regard for anybody in that car. He thought he'd finish it," Weiner said. "The only thing he finished was the life of a beautiful, innocent 5-year-old boy."

Testifying early Wednesday, Hernandez denied shooting at Galarza. He insisted another man, a fellow gang member, shot at the Galarzas' car, but Hernandez didn't tell police because he was afraid.

"I didn't call them because he threatened my life," said Hernandez, who denied telling key prosecution witness Carlos Lopez that he shot at a guy but missed and hit a kid instead.

Hernandez also denied threatening Galarza Sr. the previous year and chasing him throughout Elgin in his car.

The night of the murder, Hernandez said he was driving his father and the man he said was the shooter to a nearby bar. The passenger told Hernandez to stop near the Galarza home, he said.

"He said he was going to serve somebody," said Hernandez, who explained that serve meant to sell someone "coke or weed."

Shortly after the man exited the truck, Hernandez said he heard gunshots. The man returned with a "crazy, wild look," Hernandez said.

"I didn't know what he did," he said. "I knew there was a shooting."

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