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CROWN POINT — Sylvia Galvan said Thursday in Lake Criminal Court a mother imagines writing letters to her children congratulating them for graduating or purchasing their first home.

Instead she was forced to a write a letter to her son's murderer.

Rolando Leal, 28, was sentenced Thursday to 110 years in prison for the gangland murder of Thaddeus Rodriguez Jr. The 25-year-old member of the Dark Side Two Six street gang was found shot to death in the early morning hours Jan. 25, 2016, outside an East Chicago row house.

Leal, a member of the Imperial Gangsters, was sentenced to 55 years in prison for participating in the murder, and an additional 55 years for doing it on behalf of the Dark Side Two Six.

Testimony at trial showed Leal and a co-defendant coerced a mutual friend to lure Rodriguez out from his friend's house in the 4800 block of Olcott Avenue and then shot him repeatedly with 9 mm handguns.

The co-defendant, Angel Garcia-Berrios, allegedly yelled “Merry Christmas” before shooting Rodriguez. Leal shot and wounded a 38-year-old man who happened to be outside a friend's home during the altercation.

A witness testified Rodriguez was “greenlighted” for murder by the Dark Side Two Six because he messed up a “lick,” or robbery.

Leal was found guilty at trial July 12 of murder, battery by means of a deadly weapon, criminal gang activity and a gang sentencing enhancement.

Galvan said in a statement to the court Rodriguez loved to dance and draw. He tried so hard to write songs and be a singer, but he was a better athlete. He played football in high school and received a scholarship for wrestling.

“He was an amazing fighter,” she said.

She said news of her son's death circulated on social media before it was confirmed by authorities.

“Our poor children, near and far, woke up to Facebook posts saying their brother was dead,” she said. “They were afraid to call and ask if it was true.”

Matthew Galvan, the stepfather who raised Rodriguez, accused Leal of smiling during his wife's statement.

“We live in hell because of you,” he said. “A lot of families live in hell.”

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Jatkiewicz said Leal had a juvenile and adult criminal history that ran for pages. He was previously sentenced to four years in Lake County Community Corrections for killing a man during a hit-and-run crash in 2013 in East Chicago.

Leal denied he was affiliated with a gang in a pre-sentencing report, Jatkiewicz said, but his trial was replete with photos of him flashing gang signs, wearing gang colors and associating with gang members.

Defense attorney Arlington Foley said Leal told his family not to attend his sentencing hearing, which is why there was no one to speak on his behalf. He said Leal only had two convictions, for a felony and a misdemeanor, as an adult, and evidence at trial suggested he had alcohol and drug problems.

Leal apologized to Rodriguez's family for the pain and suffering they think he caused them, but he claimed he was “wrongfully convicted.”

“I don't feel I had a fair trial,” he said. “And my life was a joke to the state.”

Judge Samuel L. Cappas said he appreciated the fact that Leal was a “model inmate” while awaiting trial, but noted the seriousness of the offense and Leal's criminal history before handing down his sentence.

Leal told Cappas he intended to appeal.

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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.