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Robert Battle

Former East Chicago City Councilman Robert Battle.

CROWN POINT — Robert Battle, the former East Chicago city councilman elected to his second term in office while indicted on drug and murder charges, was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in prison for the murder in 2015 of Reimundo Camarillo Jr.

Battle, 45, apologized to Camarillo's family, his own family and constituents in a statement at Tuesday's sentencing hearing. However, he maintained he shot the 31-year-old East Chicago man in self-defense.

“It could have easily been me laying in an alley, my family here crying,” he said.

Battle claimed he got into East Chicago politics because he wanted to help improve the community. Personal issues, including depression, drove him to commit the worst act of his life, he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David J. Nozick said Battle was not Robin Hood — he did not sell drugs to enrich his community. Quite the opposite, he was a drug trafficker who lined his own pockets by poisoning his community.

“Mr. Battle was pouring cocaine on the streets of East Chicago while serving as an elected official,” Nozick said.

Judge Philip P. Simon agreed Battle's political role made the crime more egregious. He said a supporter of Battle wrote in a letter she remembered the councilman was very concerned about reports of lead in Flint, Michigan's water supply. Given allegations Battle sold large quantities of cocaine to a drug trafficker in Flint, it appeared the defendant also helped poison the beleaguered city, Simon said.

U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II said in a statement after Battle's sentencing the councilman was elected to uphold the law and instead conspired to break it.

“Today’s sentence reflects the seriousness of his offense and should be a warning to others who want to engage in these type of violent crimes,” Kirsch said.

Guilty plea to murder 

Battle pleaded guilty in June to shooting and killing Camarillo Oct. 12, 2015, after the alleged member of the Two Six street gang came to Battle's home to discuss an outstanding drug debt.

Battle lost the owed money — $100,700 — after his vehicle was stopped Sept. 23, 2015, in Chesterton by federal authorities, who were investigating Battle for involvement in a drug-trafficking conspiracy.

A cooperating witness in Flint, Michigan, told authorities he had purchased several kilograms of cocaine on multiple occasions from Battle beginning in 2006. He claimed in one instance a uniformed East Chicago policeman delivered the drugs to him in a squad car.

David Zamora, special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, testified Tuesday the witnesses' information seemed credible. The East Chicago policeman named by the drug trafficker, Xavier Herrera, was arrested in 2008 while attempting to sell several kilograms of cocaine to a confidential informant in Illinois.

Herrera admitted to conspiring to possess cocaine in 2010 and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Battle agreed to cooperate with federal investigators after the traffic stop, Zamora said. They arranged for Battle to meet with Camarillo Sept. 24, 2015, at Battle's home in the 4200 block of Euclid Avenue.

Camarillo did not show for the meeting, however. Zamora said investigators told Battle to call them immediately if he was contacted by Camarillo, who the special agent described as a dangerous man.

Battle alleges bad legal advice

The morning of Oct. 12, 2015, East Chicago police were dispatched after the city's Shot Spotter system registered three gunshots outside Battle's home. Camarillo was found dead from a gunshot wound to the back in an alley behind the residence.

Walter Alvarez, the councilman's former defense attorney, contacted police that afternoon and said Battle wanted to surrender to authorities for the shooting. Battle was bleeding from the neck and shoulder when he met with authorities, Zamora said.

Battle answered questions through his attorney, but Alvarez conducted his conversations with Battle within earshot of law enforcement officers. Authorities learned from the not-so-secret discussions there was no struggle before Battle shot Camarillo, which undercut the defendant's self-defense claim.

Battle's federal defense attorney, Jack Friedlander, said Tuesday Alvarez provided “bad advice” to Battle, including suggesting he cooperate with investigators immediately after the traffic stop, which forced them to accept the plea agreement to murder.

Simon agreed Alvarez's advice to Battle “wasn't great.”

"Walter Alvarez didn't do the right thing by me," Battle said in his statement. 

A message left at Alvarez's law office Tuesday was not returned.

Battle was arrested and charged with Camarillo's murder, as well as multiple drug trafficking offenses.

Elected to second term

Despite his arrest, the councilman was elected that November to his second term as 3rd District councilman after running unopposed for the seat. He was sworn into office at Porter County Jail. The East Chicago City Council voted unanimously in May 2016 to remove him from office.

Mario Camarillo, the victim's wife, said at Tuesday's sentencing hearing she began dating Camarillo in 2002 or 2003. They married in 2009 and their third child was born three months before the murder.

“Robert Battle broke my kids,” she said, crying. “You made them suffer.”

She said their older son was teased at school about his father's murder. She suffered postpartum depression after their son was born and spent her days in bed.

She said Battle was the devil, but also played God by taking Camarillo's life.

Tina Camarillo, the victim's sister, said her brother grew closer to his family as he grew older. She showed her children photos and videos of their uncle, but it could not make up for their loss.

Friedlander told the judge Battle had almost no criminal history and agreed to cooperate with investigators. He noted several former employees for East Chicago wrote letters supporting Battle.

Friedlander requested a 10-year prison sentence. 

Simon sentenced Battle to 20 years in prison. Battle will serve an additional three years of supervised release after his prison term.

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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.