WHEATON (STMW) — A 23-year-old west suburban Willowbrook man was found guilty of first degree murder for what prosecutors called a “senseless” slaying of an 18-year-old man.
Juan Cuellar of Willowbrook faces 45 years to life in prison after a jury convicted him Tuesday of the September 2012 shooting death of a Hinsdale South High School graduate. Sentencing is May 28.
Cuellar admitted on the stand to firing his gun at 18-year-old Joshua Holmes at about 6:35 p.m. Sept. 24, outside the Hinsdale Lakes apartment complex near Willowbrook, where he lived. But Cuellar claimed he acted in self-defense, afraid that Holmes was about to shoot him, Pioneer Press is reporting.
No weapon was found with Holmes, who died in a hospital a short time later.
“You can’t bring a gun to a fistfight, shoot (someone) unarmed in the back five times and call it self-defense,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Cathy DeLaMar in closing arguments.
Earlier in the trial, a pathologist testified bullets had hit Holmes twice in the butt and twice in the back.
The location of a fifth bullet was less definite, but Cuellar’s defense attorney said evidence suggested it struck Holmes’ forearm.
Cuellar had a previous run-in with Holmes, after Cuellar’s younger brother said Holmes did not deliver the marijuana for which the brother had paid Holmes $90, police have said.
On Sept. 6, Cuellar and his brother, Christopher Hernandez, confronted Holmes outside the apartment complex. Cuellar had a gun, which he loaded and pointed at Holmes, who then ran away. Hernandez threw a piece of concrete at Holmes.
Cuellar’s attorney, Paul De Luca, said Cuellar told his brother that was the end of the problem.
On Sept. 24, Holmes and some of his friends went to a local restaurant where Hernandez was working. Hernandez testified Holmes patted his pocket and said, “I’ve got something for you,” suggesting a weapon.
Cuellar said he drove to the apartment complex later that day to make sure his brother and mother were all right. He said he saw a group of men, so he turned down another street, stopped, and got his Glock pistol out of the trunk. He loaded the gun and put it on the console of his car. As he drove back, he saw Holmes and yelled at him, “What’s your problem?” Holmes allegedly said, “What’s up?”
But Cuellar said Holmes also pulled up the bottom of his hoodie with his left hand and reached for his waistband with his right. DeLuca said Cuellar, believing Holmes was about to pull a gun, fired at Holmes.
“Juan Cuellar was not the aggressor in this matter,” DeLuca said.
Prosecutors, however, said if Cuellar believed Holmes had a gun, he would not have gotten out of his car and stood over the bleeding Holmes, as witnesses said he had. If Cuellar had acted in self-defense, DeLaMar said, he would not have tried to destroy all the evidence of the shooting.
With the help of friends and relatives, prosecutors said Cuellar tried to rub the serial number off the pistol. He then broke the gun apart.
Cuellar’s ex-girlfriend testified she and Cuellar’s mother drove to St. Charles with Cuellar, where he weighted down the gun case and threw it and the parts of the gun into the Fox River.
DeLuca said Cuellar carefully wiped any fingerprints off the bullets he had and dropped them in a sewer in Panfish Park in Glen Ellyn.
“These are not the actions of a man who shot someone in self-defense,” DeLaMar said.
A year ago, Cuellar’s 43-year-old mother, Elva Hernandez, was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of obstructing justice, for helping her son conceal evidence.
“It wasn’t fear” that caused Cuellar to shoot Holmes, DeLaMar said. “It was revenge. This is an execution.”
“While there is nothing that can be done to bring Joshua back, perhaps today’s guilty verdict and the knowledge that the man responsible for Joshua’s murder will be held accountable will offer some measure of closure to Joshua’s family and friends,” State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2014. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)