Scheffler not guilty in Wheeling shooting
A Cook County judge today found Collin Scheffler, of Prospect Heights, not guilty on all charges stemming from the fatal shooting of a 23-year-old Wheeling man last year.
Cook County Judge Thomas Fecarotta found Scheffler, 20, neither aided nor abetted the death of Rafael Orozco, 23, who prosecutors say was killed May 1, 2013, while walking his dog Gizmo in the 400 block of Pleasant Run Drive in the Winetree Apartments complex.
Scheffler had been charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm under the accountability law, which holds co-defendants or partners-in-crime responsible for each other's actions.
A visibly relieved Scheffler hugged his parents and family members outside the courtroom after the verdict announcement.
"I never did anything wrong. I was never going to take a deal," said Scheffer, who insisted he made a false confession to police over 13 hours of questioning in the belief if he told them what they wanted to hear, they'd let him go home.
The family never doubted Collin, but they worried about the outcome, said his father, William Scheffler.
"He was willing to go away himself before he would put someone else away who is innocent," William Scheffler said.
Charges against Jesus E. Sanchez -- who prosecutors claim is the shooter -- are pending. If called to the witness stand in that case, Scheffler said he "will testify (Sanchez) was no part of this whatsoever."
Prosecutors said Scheffler drove Sanchez, 20, from a nearby complex to Winetree where Sanchez shot at a rival gang member who he and several others fought with earlier that day. Instead, the bullet struck Orozco, who died from a gunshot wound to his lung.
In his closing argument, Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Mike Crowe said Orozco would be alive if not for Scheffler.
"He, in effect, dropped off Mr. Orozco's assassin," Crowe said. "And he did so with the knowledge that Mr. Sanchez was going to do just that."
Defense attorney Ari Trubitt argued in his closing argument that no physical evidence corroborated his client's statement to police. No witnesses saw Sanchez shoot Orozco. No witnesses described Scheffler's white car in the vicinity.
The state's entire case rests entirely on the statement of a then- 19-year-old boy who "did the best he could to satisfy their (police) demands," Trubitt said, "not because he was guilty, but because he was a scared kid."
Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Mike Gerber argued Scheffler was accountable for Orozco's death. Scheffler may not have been a gang member, but he saw Sanchez holding a gun while Sanchez sat in Scheffler's car before the shooting, Gerber said.
"He chose these guys as his pals," said Gerber. "He knew (Sanchez) was going to be taking care of business. He knew someone was going to be shot. That's accountability."
In announcing his finding, the judge cited Illinois' accountability law, which dates back to 1854.
"The law requires something more than mere presence," observing a weapon or overhearing a conversation, said Fecarotta referring to the accountability issue. "There has to be an overt act."
"Two other gang members got out (of Scheffler's car) to do the shooting but they don't stand before me," Fecarotta said. "Are they not even more culpable than Mr. Scheffler?"
The evidence against Scheffler is insufficient to convict him of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, Fecarotta said.