Guilty verdict in 2013 murder of Wheeling man walking dog
After nearly nine hours of deliberations, a Rolling Meadows jury found Jose Sanchez guilty late Friday of first-degree murder in the 2013 shooting death of a Wheeling man.
Jurors also found 20-year-old Sanchez guilty of personally discharging a firearm in the commission of a murder, meaning he faces a minimum of 45 years and a maximum of life in prison when he is sentenced possibly as early as Dec. 3, his next court date.
Rafael Orozco, 23, was out walking his dog Gizmo about 9 p.m. May 1, 2013, when he stopped to talk with some of his neighbors under a streetlight in the Winetree Apartment complex. Orozco was shot in the back when Sanchez fired at a nearby fellow gang member who authorities say had switched his allegiance.
Prosecutors expressed sympathy for the victim's family after the verdict was announced.
"My heart goes out to the Orozco family," said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Mike Gerber, who praised Wheeling police for their "absolutely outstanding job."
"They're out there every day risking their lives for everyone in the community, including gang members," he said.
Cook County Assistant Public Defender Julie Koehler said she intends to appeal the guilty verdict.
"We have a very good chance on appeal because I do believe the statement was coerced by the Wheeling Police Department," she said. "That police officers resorted to repeated lies about what witnesses were saying in order to get a teenager to confess was pathetic."
Sanchez reacted stoically to the verdict, Koehler said, but his mother collapsed in tears outside the courtroom.
"It broke my heart to see her react like that," Koehler said.
Deliberations were uneventful until about 9 p.m. when Cook County Judge Thomas Fecarotta received a note from the jury saying a fear of gang retaliation made them hesitant to render a verdict, Koehler said.
The judge polled the jurors, 11 of whom said they could continue deliberating. One juror expressed fear, Gerber said. After Fecarotta questioned her on the record, with prosecutors and defense attorneys present, she indicated she could continue deliberating.
The jury reached a verdict about 30 minutes later, Koehler said.
In closing arguments Friday, prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed that "senseless violence" claimed the life of Orozco, who they agreed was an innocent bystander. What they disagreed on is who fired the fatal shot.
Prosecutors say it was Sanchez, an Arlington Heights resident angry that the fellow gang member had switched allegiance. They say Sanchez was aiming at the then 17-year-old rival when he fired into a group of neighbors. But instead of hitting the teen, the bullet struck Orozco in what Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Michael Crowe described as the "anecdotal rule of such shootings."
During closing arguments, prosecutors pointed to the most damning evidence: Sanchez's videotaped confession.
Defense attorneys argued that the police extracted a false confession from their client over hours of interrogation during which Sanchez, then 18 and working two jobs while studying for his GED, repeatedly sobbed and asked for his mother.
"It's not important what he said as who put it there," said Cook County Assistant Public Defender Calvin Aguilar.
Aguilar said Wheeling police singled out Sanchez as a suspect because of several physical altercations he had earlier that day with the gang rival, labeled a "pancake" because he had "flipped" on the gang. Aguilar added that neither witnesses nor physical evidence -- including gunshot residue -- link Sanchez to the shooting. Moreover, the attorney said, statements Sanchez made to police during his interrogation don't match the evidence, which indicates the shots came from south to north, not north to south as Sanchez claimed.
Aguilar claimed detectives suggested the shooting resulted from a mistake, accident or self-defense.
"Jesus Sanchez never brings up the word 'mistake' or 'accident,'" Aguilar said, adding that officers were "laying siege to his wall of resolve ... looking for his Achilles' heel."
And that weakness, Aguilar said, was his mother, who was recovering from surgery.
"(The target) may be a pancake," Aguilar said. "This guy (Sanchez) is a cupcake. ... He had a taste of the (gang) life and he decided it's not for him."
Crowe painted a different portrait of Sanchez, calling him "the leader of a little group of delinquents."
"Missing your intended target is not a defense for first-degree murder," Crowe said, adding Sanchez's confession "is an admission of guilt" even if it doesn't contain every detail.
Gerber had harsher words for the defendant.
"He's nothing but a sniveling, cowardly killer," Gerber said.
Calling the shooting "gang retribution, pure and simple," he urged jurors to return a guilty verdict.
"Send a message that you're not tolerating this anymore," he said. "Send a message to gangbangers. Get a killer off the street."