Lawyer: Suspect in Streamwood road-rage shooting may have case to claim self-defense
The defense strategy for an 18-year-old man charged with murder in a road-rage shooting Sunday in Streamwood has not yet been forged, but his attorney said prosecutors' initial presentation of the case would lead most to see the potential for self-defense.
However, variables such as who initiated the encounter, whether the force he used was excessive, and the defendant's use of a handgun he couldn't legally possess could all be factors in the viability of that claim, other attorneys say.
Jason Mejia, of the 300 block of Cedar Circle in Streamwood, faces charges of first-degree murder and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon stemming from Sunday's fatal shooting of 46-year-old Scott Mattison of Streamwood during a traffic dispute.
A prosecutor said the altercation began when Mattison was trying to back a pickup truck into his driveway late Sunday afternoon. Mejia pulled up in a sedan and, rather than waiting for Mattison to finish pulling in, maneuvered around the pickup. Mattison then drove after Mejia and pulled in front of him, causing Mejia to stop on Bartlett Road near Oltendorf Road, authorities said.
Mattison got out of his truck and, after a brief argument, reached inside Mejia's car and struck the teenager in the face, authorities say. Prosecutors allege Mejia then shot Mattison several times, leaving him fatally wounded.
A witness video-recorded the confrontation from behind Mejia's vehicle and posted it on the social media site Snapchat.
Mejia's attorney, Al Kola, emphasized Thursday that he was not yet making any assertion of self-defense, but said the video as well as the arrest photo of his client -- showing an injury on his face -- could constitute evidence for one.
"It's a huge factor," Kola said of the video's potential contribution to a self-defense argument.
Kola does not see Mejia's possession of the gun as something that would be an obstacle to a self-defense claim.
But Bill Bligh, a Woodstock-based defense attorney not associated with Mejia's case, believes that, in general, the illegal possession of a firearm would negatively affect any argument for its use in self-defense.
"I would say it would greatly matter," Bligh said. "I think that fact makes it much more difficult for a finder of fact."
Thomas Glasgow, a Schaumburg-based defense attorney also not associated with the case, said the laws of a jurisdiction matter greatly. While it's possible for an 18-year-old in Indiana to legally possess a 9 mm handgun, it isn't in Illinois.
In Mejia's case, he's already been prosecuted for an earlier offense of discharging a firearm as a juvenile, according to the Cook County state's attorney's office.
Glasgow said there are several criteria to apply to a self-defense argument. But in his experience, one of them stands above the rest.
"Every last one has hinged on whether my guy was the aggressor," he said.
The burden of proof in a self-defense case lies on the defendant to demonstrate that the force was used out of an imminent fear of death or great bodily harm, which the prosecution then has an opportunity to refute.
In Illinois, as in the majority of states, there's no legal obligation to retreat from a confrontation. But the use of excessive force -- anything beyond the neutralization of an imminent threat -- cannot be claimed as self-defense, Glasgow said.
Proving self-defense requires not only showing that the defendant believed the use of force was necessary, but that the belief was objectively reasonable, he added.
Mejia's next court appearance is scheduled for March 25 at the Cook County courthouse in Rolling Meadows, but it's not necessarily when the preliminary hearing will occur or when a defense argument will need to be made, Kola said.