Prosecutors: Video footage, shell casings point to Mount Prospect man in 2018 murder
Police responding to a report of a burning car in a Mount Prospect condominium complex parking lot four years ago never expected to uncover a homicide, prosecutors say. But that's what they found, and now Paul Zalewski is standing trial for first-degree murder.
In opening statements Tuesday, Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Michael Clarke told the jury that "details of this vicious crime were not readily apparent to police when they responded to the 911 call." Arriving at the scene, they discovered Vladimir Esquivel dead inside his silver Jeep Wrangler.
Esquivel, 29, of Arlington Heights, was shot seven times and left inside his vehicle, which was parked in the Cinnamon Cove complex and set on fire. Days later, authorities charged Zalewski, of Mount Prospect.
Zalewski, 25, has pleaded not guilty. He is being held without bail at Cook County jail.
Prosecutors say Zalewski shot Esquivel to death in a parking lot of an auto body shop on Addison Court in Mount Prospect, then drove him to the lot where Esquivel's body was found. They say video surveillance from nearby businesses and from a red-light camera show the license plate number of the white Chevy Malibu Zalewski drove that night. The red-light camera is located at an intersection Zalewski drove through at 10:32 and 10:45 p.m. Feb. 15, 2018, and at 12:09 a.m. Feb. 16, 2018, Clarke said.
Clarke said interior video surveillance from Esquivel's apartment shows him retrieving a large bag of marijuana, which he put into a satchel before he left his home. A large bag of marijuana was subsequently found in Zalewski's trunk, Clarke said.
In addition, Clarke said fired shell casings found in the victim's Jeep matched shell casings found in the basement of Zalewski's home where a "makeshift firing range" was located. Clarke said a ballistics expert will testify the casings came from bullets fired from the same 9 mm handgun, which has not been recovered.
Clarke told jurors they will see a lot of photographs, a lot of video, and a lot of documents and records.
Each piece of evidence "standing alone in a vacuum may not tell you a lot," he said. "But when you consider these pieces together in a chronological order ... they paint a clear picture of how Vladimir Esquivel died."
Defense attorney William Murphy argued the police targeted his client and moved too quickly to arrest him.
According to Murphy, the auto body shop was "a center for distribution for drugs in the Northwest suburbs."
"Because Paul Zalewski was at the shop that night, he must have done it," Murphy said. "They made a decision, they wanted to go after somebody."
Murphy said police found footprints in the snow near the scene of the crime but never compared them to his client's footprints. He also said a couple living at the condo complex reported seeing eight men run from the scene and pile into three cars, a report he says police didn't pursue.
Police were so busy targeting Zalewski "they didn't follow up the right way," Murphy said, adding that his client did not live in the home where the shell casings were found.
Testimony continues Wednesday in Rolling Meadows.