CROWN POINT — Jurors selected for a trial set to begin Monday will hear how confidential informants, witness testimony and ballistics analysis helped authorities secure charges against two men more than a year after a 25-year-old was gunned down in East Chicago.
Angel Garcia-Berrios, 25, of Hammond, and Rolando M. Leal Jr., 29, of Portage, were charged in March 2017 in connection with a shooting Jan. 25, 2016, that killed Thaddeus Rodriguez Jr. and wounded a 39-year-old man.
Rodriguez, 25, of Hammond, suffered 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.
Garcia-Berrios, an alleged member of the Dark Side Two Six street gang, is scheduled to stand trial starting Monday on charges of murder, battery by means of a deadly weapon and criminal gang activity.
A Lake Criminal Court jury convicted Leal on all counts in July. Judge Samuel Cappas sentenced Leal in August to 110 years in prison.
Lake County Supervisory Deputy Prosecutor Michelle Jatkiewicz and defense attorney Robert Varga appeared before Cappas several times last week as they prepared for trial.
Varga sought a last-minute continuance of the trial to have an expert analyze cellphone data turned over to him in late May, but the parties agreed to sort the issue out as the trial proceeds.
The wounded 39-year-old told police he was waiting for a ride outside a friend's home about 5 a.m. when Rodriguez left another house. The man said hello to Rodriguez before two men ran toward them with guns and he was forced into a gangway and shot, according to testimony at Leal's trial.
Rodriguez was found on a cement porch.
Rodriguez's girlfriend told police she watched from a window as two men ran toward Rodriguez after he left the home. She heard shouting, saw a scuffle, and heard a man yell, "Merry Christmas," before about 10 shots rang out, court records say.
In February 2016, late East Chicago police Officer Korey Dumas recovered a 9mm Smith and Wesson handgun during a traffic stop. The man who had the gun was a felon and agreed to become a confidential source, records say.
The informant told police he had gotten the gun from Leal, who said the firearm had been used in a murder. Two spent bullets found under Rodriguez's body were determined to have been fired from the gun, records say.
Police later developed a second confidential informant, who wanted to avoid prosecution for being a felon in possession of a firearm after he accidentally shot his own leg, records say.
That informant told police he waited in a car the night Leal and Garcia-Berrios shot Rodriguez, who had been put on a "cancel" list by the Two Six gang, records say.
After returning to the car, Garcia-Berrios said, "You should have seen his face when he saw me. I told him, 'Merry Christmas,'" according to the man's previous testimony.