Paul Zalewski found guilty of 2018 Mount Prospect murder
After three hours of deliberation, a jury on Tuesday found Paul Zalewski guilty of the 2018 shooting death of an Arlington Heights man whose body was found in a burning vehicle in the parking lot of a Mount Prospect condominium complex.
Zalewski, 25, of Mount Prospect was also found guilty of concealment of a homicide and marijuana possession in the death of Vladimir Esquivel, 29. He faces a minimum of 45 years in prison when he is sentenced possibly as soon as April 21, when he next appears in court.
Speaking after the verdict, Baldemar Esquivel remembered his brother and expressed gratitude for the friends who have supported him, including about a half dozen who remained by his side during the five-day trial.
"I love him so much," Baldemar Esquivel said tearfully. "My family has been suffering, waiting for years to get justice for my brother."
In his closing argument Tuesday, Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Jamison Berger described the case as a puzzle in which "every single piece matters because every piece fits."
He was referring to the voluminous video, photographic and scientific evidence the state introduced against Zalewski, which Berger meticulously reviewed during his hourlong closing argument. It consisted mostly of surveillance video obtained from the Addison Court auto body shop outside of which authorities say the murder occurred, as well as from neighboring businesses and a red-light camera.
"Watch the video through the lens of your own common sense," Berger said of a video compilation of key moments from before, during and after the murder.
Defense attorney William Murphy described the compilation as an "artistic collage" from which information was omitted that could raise reasonable doubt.
Esquivel's body was found shortly after midnight Feb. 16, 2018, in his burned-out Jeep Wrangler in the Cinnamon Cove parking lot in Mount Prospect, not far from the Addison Court parking lot where prosecutors say Zalewski shot him to death about 10:13 p.m. Feb. 15, 2018.
The video compilation began with footage showing Esquivel retrieving a large bag of marijuana from his home and leaving with it. A similarly packaged bag of marijuana was found in Zalewski's trunk when he was arrested five days after the murder.
Prosecutors say Zalewski, who was driving a white Chevy Malibu, met Esquivel in the auto shop parking lot shortly after 10 p.m. after receiving a one-second phone call from him at 9:58 p.m. They said muzzle flashes seen in surveillance video at 10:13 p.m. indicate when the shooting took place.
A Cook County medical examiner testified Esquivel was shot at least four times and possibly up to seven in the head, abdomen and arm.
Police never recovered the weapon, but they linked shell casings recovered from the Jeep to shell casings found in Zalewski's basement. A firearms expert testified all the casings came from bullets fired from the same gun.
Prosecutors maintain video surveillance shows Zalewski entering and exiting the Jeep and the auto body shop multiple times over the next 18 minutes. The body shop owner testified Zalewski asked him for gloves, gasoline and a rag that night.
Red-light camera video also captured Zalewski driving the white Malibu in the vicinity of Addison Court, Busse Road, Oakton Street and Cinnamon Cove between 10:32 p.m. and 12:09 a.m.
Video shows the Jeep emerging from Addison Court "ever so slowly," before arriving at the condo complex about 11:56 p.m., Berger said. The first 911 call came at 12:02 a.m.
Murphy claimed the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
"There is not a scintilla of evidence that he (Zalewski) ever possessed a gun," said Murphy, adding that the state produced no evidence indicating Esquivel was in the Jeep alone.
Murphy also reminded jurors that defense witness Barry Dickey -- a forensic audio and video recording expert -- testified the flash of light inside the Jeep came not from a discharged weapon but from a slight change in illumination caused by a person entering and exiting the vehicle.
Murphy also pointed out that no fingerprints, DNA or blood evidence linked his client or his vehicle to the shooting.
"There was no blood whatsoever on anything that would indicate he (Zalewski) was in a close-range shooting," said Murphy, adding that no one in the body shop reported seeing blood on Zalewski and none was found in his car.
"Wouldn't there be at least a minute amount?" he asked.
Claiming police failed to look into Esquivel's drug source or his clients, Murphy said they targeted Zalewski and moved too quickly to arrest him.
Police did not target Zalewski, said Assistant Cook County Shilpa Patel; their investigation led to him.
"The lack of blood and fingerprint evidence shows what a cold and calculated individual he is," she said. "Everything he did after killing Vladimir Esquivel was to clean up his crime."