CROWN POINT — Attorneys made vastly different predictions Monday of how jurors will come to see a murder case after a trial this week in Lake Criminal Court concludes.
Lake County Supervisory Deputy Prosecutor Michelle Jatkiewicz said evidence and testimony will prove Angel Garcia-Berrios, 25, of Hammond, beat, shot and left a 25-year-old Hammond man dead on a cold East Chicago street Jan. 25, 2016.
Defense attorney Robert Varga* said the case hinges on the testimony of an alleged gang member who could be tied to the homicide scene and became a confidential source to avoid prosecution after accidentally shooting himself in the leg.
The man, a felon who cannot legally possess a firearm, knew enough details about the homicide to give police a story that fit, Vargas said.
Garcia-Berrios and Rolando M. Leal Jr., 29, of Portage, were charged in March 2017 in connection with the shooting that killed Thaddeus Rodriguez Jr. and wounded a 39-year-old man.
A Lake Criminal Court jury convicted Leal last summer of murder, battery by means of a deadly weapon and criminal gang activity. Judge Samuel Cappas sentenced him to 110 years in prison.
Rodriguez, 25, of Hammond, suffered blunt force injuries and eight gunshot wounds to the head and body after walking out of a row house in the 4800 block of Olcott Avenue in East Chicago's south side neighborhood, court records say.
Rodriguez had run afoul of the Dark Side Two Six street gang, Jatkiewicz said. Garcia-Berrios, also a member of the Two Six, murdered Rodriguez on behalf of the gang, she said.
Garcia-Berrios yelled, "Merry Christmas, (expletive)," before he and Leal ambushed Rodriguez and left him dying on the "cold, cold street," she said.
"All of the evidence together, layer upon layer upon layer, will show it was Angel Garcia-Berrios who committed these crimes," Jatkiewicz said.
Varga said no DNA or fingerprint evidence exists linking Garcia-Berrios to the homicide scene, he said.
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The confidential informant has not been charged to date, three years after the accidental shooting, he said.
"He's either the luckiest felon I've ever seen, or he's doing this with the expectation of not being charged," Varga said.
Jatkiewicz said the informant was a friend of Rodriguez and had been coerced to reveal Rodriguez's location to Garcia-Berrios and Leal the night of the shooting.
The man came forward because he wanted the killing off his chest, not for any consideration linked to a possible gun charge, Jatkiewicz said.
Rodriguez's mother, Sylvia Galvan, identified him for the jury Monday. After stepping down from the stand, Galvan sat in the gallery as Jatkiewicz presented photos of her son's body on the ground and questioned several witnesses about what they saw that night.
Former East Chicago police Officer John Baran testified he was the first to arrive at the scene and kicked Rodriguez's boot to see if he was conscious, but got no response.
Baran said there was a lot of blood around Rodriguez's head, and he could see steam rising because of the cold air temperature that night.
The trial is expected to continue Tuesday with testimony from the 39-year-old wounded in the shooting.
* Editor's note: This story has been updated from a previous version to correct the spelling of defense attorney Robert Varga's name. The Times regrets the error.