RACINE - A guilty verdict on reduced charges of party to first-degree reckless homicide was handed down in court Thursday against a 16-year-old boy for riding in what prosecutors termed as the power seat during a fatal drive-by shooting.
Families of both shooting victim Maria Trujillo and defendant Benjamin Mora silently wept in court during the reading of the verdict. Mora's parents held their heads down to their knees.
Trujillo, 18, was shot to death as she was holding her 3-year-old son inside her home. Four others were injured in the attack at 1633 Erie St.
"I think he got what he deserved," said Angel Ortiz, the father of the 3-year-old boy. "I'm not worried about the charges. He'll be away for a long time."
Mora, of 1200 Blake Ave., was initially charged with a more serious offense of party to first-degree intentional homicide. Had he been convicted on that charge, Mora would have faced a life sentence in prison. He now faces a prison term of up to 160 years on the lesser offenses for riding in the right front passenger seat during the drive-by shooting.
Police said Trujillo was not a target of the shooting.
"This was a stupid, senseless drive-by shooting that Ben Mora participated in," Assistant District Attorney Zoe Stowers said during closing arguments.
A sentencing hearing is set for Feb. 7 in the courtroom of Circuit Judge Emily Mueller.
Mora's attorney, Mark Richards of Racine, successfully argued earlier in the week that the jury should consider verdicts to lesser offenses. Richards told Mueller that the state failed to prove its case on the original murder charges. He was assisted by Racine attorney Christy Hall.
"I think what the jury did was an incredible job of shifting through the evidence," said Richards. "…I've represented people who have been said to be La Familia or the Latin Kings. The gang overtones don't enter into the equation. I think in the beginning he was way overcharged."
The additional nine charges included four counts of party to first-degree recklessly endangering safety, party to intentionally discharging a firearm at or toward a building and four counts of intentionally discharging a firearm from a vehicle at or toward a person - while armed and in a gang.
He was found not guilty on two counts of party to first-degree recklessly endangering safety and two counts of party to intentionally discharging a firearm from a vehicle at or toward a person.
Shooting victim Gilbert Hinojosa said he, too, was not bothered by the jury's decision to convict Mora of a lesser offense.
"It satisfied me," he said. "I'm gonna go home now and go to sleep."
And when asked about the future of gangs, Hinojosa said he doesn't know what solutions are needed to end the violence.
"It will most definitely continue," he said.
Stowers characterized the June 27 shooting as a gang-related incident between La Familia and the Latin Kings street gangs. She said Mora is an admitted La Familia member who planned to shoot to kill those whom he believed were rival Latin Kings.
"Drive-bys are cowardly, cowardly acts where a group of people get together with a plan, and plan to get away with it," she said.
Richards maintained his client was the fall guy for the real perpetrators in the shooting.
"He's a 16-year-old kid who gives information to police, and now he's left holding the bag," Richards said during closing arguments.
Richards said Mora had no idea the driver, Fernando Matos, would make an unplanned turn down Erie Street.
Matos, 19, was convicted last month of being the driver.
Richards said Mora was cooperative with police and wrote down the names of the people who were in the car. And based upon that information, Richards said police set up a surveillance operation at the home of Luis Murillo, whom Mora said was inside the vehicle.