Prosecutors: Videos place suspect, victim together on night of killing
A 21-year-old accused of shooting an Arlington Heights man seven times -- including once in the head -- then setting his Jeep Wrangler on fire with the body inside is being held without bail.
Paul A. Zalewski, of the 0-100 block of East Berkshire Lane in Mount Prospect, faces first-degree murder, concealment of a homicidal death and drug charges in the Feb. 15 slaying of Vladimir Esquivel, 29.
Zalewski appeared in court Thursday wearing a paper jumpsuit. As he entered the courtroom he uttered "I love you" to family members sitting in the gallery. A tearful relative of Esquivel gasped and lowered her head.
Mount Prospect police discovered Esquivel's partially burned body shortly after midnight Feb. 16 after a resident of the Cinnamon Cove apartment complex, on the 1700 block of Algonquin Road, called 911 to report a vehicle fire, said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Maria McCarthy.
An autopsy revealed Esquivel suffered one gunshot wound to the head, three to the right arm, two to the abdomen and one to the left hand, McCarthy said. He was dead at the time the car was set on fire, authorities say.
In court, prosecutors described a series of surveillance videos they say placed Esquivel and Zalewski together the night Esquivel was killed.
Surveillance video from inside Esquivel's apartment showed him retrieving a large bag of marijuana from a bedroom and leaving the apartment about 9:30 p.m. Feb. 15, McCarthy said. More video from neighboring businesses shows Esquivel's Jeep parked near a body shop on Addison Court in Mount Prospect about 10 p.m. that night, McCarthy said.
A short time later, a white Chevrolet Malibu, which police say was registered to Zalewski's mother, arrived and parked near the auto body shop. Zalewski then entered the Jeep's passenger side, she said.
According to McCarthy, body shop surveillance video shows Zalewski's face and body and witnesses who knew Zalewski from previous visits to the body shop say he entered and exited the body shop multiple times and returned to the Jeep. At one point on the video, "what appear to be muzzle flashes can be seen inside the victim's Jeep," McCarthy said.
Prosecutors described the white Malibu driving from and returning to Addison Court beginning at 10:30 p.m. They also described the white Malibu entering the nearby Chariot Courts apartments off Busse Road about 10:45 p.m.
Surveillance video showed the Jeep leave the body shop about 11:30 p.m. and enter the Cinnamon Cove apartment complex just before midnight, McCarthy said.
The call reporting a burning vehicle came in at 12:03 a.m. Feb. 16, she said. Minutes later, a white Malibu exited the Chariot Court complex.
Police recovered no marijuana from Esquivel's Jeep, she said.
On Feb. 19, prosecutors say Zalewski texted an undercover officer from the Chicago High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area saying he had "tons" of marijuana, McCarthy said.
She said members of the investigative team purchased 13.99 grams of Ketamine, a drug used for anesthesia, and 27.88 grams of MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy, from Zalewski outside the Addison Court body shop in September and November 2017. On Tuesday, the undercover officer arranged to buy marijuana from Zalewski at the body shop, she said.
After he arrived and officers boxed in his white Malibu, he "repeatedly rammed the police vehicles," McCarthy said.
Officers arrested Zalewski and recovered a bag containing 454 grams of marijuana from the trunk of his car, she said.
Officers also matched shell casings recovered from Esquivel's Jeep to those found in Zalewski's basement, which he used for target practice, she said.
"Cases such as these where the location of the murder and where the body's location differs and where steps are taken to destroy evidence through means of fire are extremely difficult to solve," Mount Prospect Police Chief John Koziol said in an announcement of the arrest. "It was only through the collaborative efforts and tireless work of the detectives and officers involved, this case was able to clear, and a coldblooded killer was taken off the streets."
• Daily Herald staff writer Chacour Koop contributed to this report.