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Jury determines 28-year-old man committed 2016 murder on orders from East Chicago street gang

Jury determines 28-year-old man committed 2016 murder on orders from East Chicago street gang

CROWN POINT — When a street gang ordered the murder more than two years ago of Thaddeus Rodriguez Jr., Rolando M. Leal Jr. carried out the orders, helping to gun down Rodriguez in the early morning hours outside an East Chicago row house, a jury determined Thursday.

Leal, a 28-year-old member of the Imperial Gangsters, was found guilty in Lake Criminal Court of murder, battery by means of a deadly weapon and criminal gang activity. Leal was also found guilty of a sentencing enhancement for carrying out the 25-year-old man's murder Jan. 25, 2016, on behalf of the Dark Side Two Six street gang.

Luis Perez-Correa, a 38-year-old former member of the Insane Latin Jivers street gang, told the jury Wednesday he heard Rodriguez was “greenlighted,” or approved for murder, by the street gang after something went wrong on a “lick,” or robbery.

Leal and a co-defendant, Angel Garcia-Berrios, allegedly coerced 30-year-old Rito Maciel Jr. to lure Rodriguez out from his friend's home in the 4800 block of Olcott Avenue in East Chicago.

Maciel, a former member of the Two Six street gang, testified Wednesday Leal and Garcia-Berrios told him to wait in Leal's car while the men crept up toward Rodriguez's home armed with two 9 mm pistols. Maciel said he heard gunshots and Leal and Garcia-Berrios came running back.

“Folks, you killed him, and I shot some dude in the leg,” Leal allegedly said.

The man shot in the leg was Jesus “Jose” Acosta, 38, who was outside a friend's home when he encountered Leal and Garcia-Berrios. He told the jury Tuesday one of the men dragged him into a gangway, beat him, robbed him, and shot him.

Rodriguez was shot eight times in the head and body and left for dead outside a row house.

“Make no mistake, this was an execution, gangland-style,” Deputy Prosecutor Michelle Jatkiewicz said in closing statements Thursday.

Defense attorney Arlington Foley attempted to minimize Leal's role in the murder in closing statements. Though Leal supplied the guns used in the murder, Foley said evidence suggested Leal did not plan for Rodriguez's murder.

He said Garcia-Berrios had a “personal beef” with Rodriguez, and he instigated the violence.

Garcia-Berrios is charged with the same offenses as Leal. He is not yet scheduled for trial.

Hammond police detective Stuart Hinson investigated the case against Leal. After the verdict was read, Leal told Hinson, “No hard feelings — you can smile.”

Due to the sentencing enhancement, Leal will face 90 to 130 years in prison for the murder, twice the crime's typical punishment. 

He is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 9.


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Lake County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Steve covers Lake County courts and social justice issues for The Times. The UW-Milwaukee graduate joined The Times in 2016 after reporting on criminal justice in New Mexico and Wisconsin.

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