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Robert Battle

Former East Chicago City Councilman Robert Battle.

HAMMOND — Former East Chicago Councilman Robert "Coop" Battle pleaded guilty early Monday to second-degree murder of Reimundo Camarillo Jr. three years ago.

Battle admitted killing Camarillo in East Chicago during a meeting at Battle's home over illicit drugs.

Members of the Camarillo family said Monday following the plea hearing they want U.S. District Court Judge Philip P. Simon to impose the longest sentence possible when he sentences Battle Sept. 11.

"The way my nephew left the Earth wasn't right. He shot him in the back," Lidia Banda, an aunt of Camarillo, said. She said she doesn't want Battle to get out of prison and back on the street where the victim's children could run into him.

Reimundo Camarillo, the victim's father, said his son left behind three children. "Yesterday was hard for them because it was Father's Day," he said.

Battle appeared in court Monday morning in orange jail coveralls and leg irons with his defense attorney Jack Friedlander. The U.S. Attorney's office appeared by Assistant U.S. Attorney David J. Nozick.

The circumstances of the killing have been in dispute since Battle's arrest.

The government alleges Battle had been trafficking in cocaine in Michigan since 2006 and was traveling home from Flint, Michigan, Sept. 23, 2015 when police stopped him on Interstate 94 in Porter County.

The government seized $100,700 from Battle's car, but allowed Battle to remain free and keep his gun.

Battle's lawyer told the court in 2015 that Camarillo suspected Battle had become a federal informant following that September arrest and confronted him Oct. 12, 2015. He said Battle shot Camarillo in self-defense after Camarillo cut Battle on his shoulder and neck with a knife. 

Battle has dropped his self-defense argument as part of his plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's office.

He states in the agreement the younger Camarillo came to Battle's residence to discuss an outstanding drug debt between them. The plea agreement states the $100,700 seized from Battle were drug trafficking proceeds.

Battle admitted fatally shooting the victim, although he had not planned to do so prior to their meeting. 

The judge told Battle he was pleading guilty to second-degree murder, which is intentional murder with malice aforethought. Battle said he agreed he was guilty of that crime.

Battle had faced either the death penalty or life imprisonment when first charged. The plea agreement requires the judge to impose a sentence of no less than 10 years or more than 20 years imprisonment. He will likely receive credit for the nearly three years in federal detention he already has served while awaiting trial.

The government also agreed to drop other felony counts of drug possession and will recommend Battle receive a more lenient sentence because he is taking responsibility for his criminal activities, but the court isn't bound by the government argument for leniency.

The judge said he will decide Sept. 11 whether to accept the terms of the plea agreement and what sentence he will impose on Battle.

Battle was indicted — while still serving as an East Chicago councilman — on one count related to the homicide and four counts linked to possession or distribution of marijuana and cocaine.

Unopposed in the November 2015 election, Battle was re-elected while being held in jail on the charges. The East Chicago City Council unanimously voted in May 2016 to remove him from office.

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Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.