CHICAGO (STMW) — One of the final images jurors saw in the murder trial of Jose Rebollar-Vergara was videotape of victim Gabriel Gonzalez, fatally shot, falling down in front of a Round Lake Beach convenience store, trying to access his cell phone and struggling to his feet before he collapsed and died.
“His death wasn’t instant. He suffered in his last moments, trying to make one last call,” Assistant State’s Attorney Reginald Mathews said during closing arguments Friday morning.
Roughly four hours later, a Lake County Circuit Court jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts, according to State’s Attorney spokeswoman Cynthia Trujillo Vargas. Rebollar-Vergara faces up to 75 years in prison when he is sentenced on June 12.
Rebollar-Vergara didn’t shoot Gonzalez, a 19-year-old from Zion, but Mathews and Assistant State’s Attorney Scott Hoffert said he was just as responsible for the death as the shooter because he incited a gang-related incident that led to the murder.
Officials said Gonzalez was not a gang member, but was killed because his assailants believed he was, and targeted him because of the way he was wearing a hat just after midnight March 10, 2013.
“On that cold, wet pavement, in front of the convenience store, Gabriel Gonzalez died,” Hoffert told the jury Friday. “Gabriel Gonzalez died because he was wearing a hat, a perceived sin, tipped slightly to the right. Jose Rebollar lives in a culture where wearing a hat tipped to the right is a death sentence.”
Rebollar-Vergara, 26, of Round Lake Park, was charged with first-degree murder, which carries a sentence of up to 60 years in prison, but the 75-year penalty is possible since jurors found him responsible for the conduct of someone armed with a firearm during commission of the crime.
Jose Garcia, 19, of Mundelein, was convicted of first degree murder as the shooter in Vergara’s death and was sentenced to 62 years in prison earlier this year. Both Garcia and Rebollar-Vergara are members of the Latin Kings street gang, according to police and prosecutors.
Defense attorney Robert Ritacca has maintained that while his client may have been a Latin King previously in Chicago, he had left the gang behind when he moved to the Round Lake area seven years ago.
Ritacca said in closing arguments that the state’s case is based on stereotyping, noting that prosecutors pointed to the way the defendant wore his hat tipped to the left and his tattoos as evidence of gang affiliation.
“Beware of stereotypes – hats, clothes, race,” Ritacca told the jury. “Stereotypes are biases. Biases have no place when you make your decision. Make your decision on facts.”
Ritacca said that the state must prove Rebollar-Vergara guilty on the basis of accountability, and that the defendant had no criminal intent when he went to purchase beer, and was unaware that Garcia had a gun and would end up shooting anyone.
Mathews responded that Rebollar-Vergara “drips (Latin) Kings,” and was well aware Garcia was acting as an enforcer that night, with a glove on his right hand and his left hand in his pocket with a gun.
Rebollar-Vergara entered the One Stop Food and Liquor Store on Fairfield Road just after midnight March 10 of last year with Garcia and a third man and were purchasing beer when Gonzalez entered to purchase a cigarette.
There was a quick verbal altercation inside the store, during which prosecutors said Rebollar-Vergara accused Gonzalez of being a rival gang member. Gonzalez attempted to leave but was followed out by Garcia and Rebollar-Vergara, who prosecutors said “stalked him” as he walked backwards in the parking lot.
He eventually turned to run, at which point Garcia opened fire with 10 rounds, fatally striking him in the back with one of the shots.
In a videotaped statement to police last year, Rebollar-Vergara said he thought he had been in a fight two years earlier with Gonzalez at a Round Lake bar, and that as a result, he and Gonzalez exchanged insults as they were leaving the convenience store and he believed they would fight outside the store. He maintained he was surprised when Garcia pulled out a gun and opened fire.
Surveillance cameras caught the confrontation inside the store and the shooting in the parking lot, and that footage was used as evidence in the trials of both Garcia and Rebollar-Vergara.
Closing arguments concluded and the jury received its final instructions before beginning deliberations at about 11:30 a.m. Friday. The jurors returned with their verdict around 4 p.m.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2014. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)