A Cook County jury spent the past week hearing testimony about a bloody and chaotic night on the North Side: an attack that left three men with their throats slashed, one of whom somehow survived; then the ensuing police chase that ended with an officer shot and one of the alleged perpetrators killed by police.
Monday afternoon, jurors began deliberating the fate of Raul Segura-Rodriguez, accused of pointing a gun at three men in an Edgewater apartment that night in February 2011 while his accomplices tied them up and cut their throats, leaving them for dead.
Segura-Rodriguez, as his attorneys repeatedly pointed out, is not accused of personally slashing or shooting anyone. But, prosecutors said, since he acted in concert with the others, he is equally responsible for the attack. He faces charges including first-degree murder, attempted murder, armed robbery and aggravated battery for his alleged role in the mayhem that evening.
The crew's accused ringleader, Arturo Ibarra, was shot and killed by police during a car chase and shootout after he, Segura-Rodriguez and alleged collaborator Augustin Toscano fled the apartment building.
The three men were part of a crew suspected in about a dozen murders from 2009 to 2011, the Tribune has previously reported. And authorities believe they are devotees of La Santa Muerte - Saint Death - some of whose adherents have been characterized as members of a violent death cult.
But over the past week, most of the evidence jurors heard focused strictly on the events of Feb. 26, 2011, the chaotic evening when prosecutors said a phony drug deal turned deadly, and police took down the three men after a dramatic chase and shootout.
"Instead of there being some kind of transaction, what there was was a night of hell, of terror," Assistant State's Attorney Andy Varga said. "What there was was an order to get down on the ground."
Louis Leyva-Garcia testified last week that he and two other men were ordered to get on the ground that night in the small Edgewater apartment. While Segura-Rodriguez held them at gunpoint, Ibarra tied their wrists behind their backs and Toscano rifled through the apartment for a bag of cash - then slit their throats one by one, he testified.
The other men, Joel Diaz and Ramiro Mendoza, died from their wounds. Leyva-Garcia somehow survived.
There is still a hole in his throat, he testified. He can speak, hoarsely, and would often hold his hand over the hole in his neck so that air would not escape and he could be heard more clearly.
In closing arguments Monday, Segura-Rodriguez's attorney Stephen Journey told jurors that Leyva-Garcia was not reliable. He was merely a "puppet" for prosecutors, Journey said, helping them out with the hope of avoiding deportation. Leyva-Garcia has since obtained a special visa for crime victims who cooperate with authorities.
In addition, after having indicated to authorities in 2011 that he went to the Edgewater apartment expecting to be part of a major drug deal - $50,000 in exchange for 2 or 3 kilos of cocaine - Leyva-Garcia on the stand last week denied knowing any specifics about why he was in the apartment that day.
After police searched the getaway truck, they found boxes of Swiffer pads duct-taped to look like cocaine, along with a blood-stained knife and Walmart bags full of cash that they allegedly took from the apartment.
As part of a lengthy surveillance operation targeting the crew, police were watching Ibarra as he and the other men walked into and out of the Edgewater apartment building that day. And when the call came in that someone had been hurt in that building, officers began to pursue Ibarra's black pickup truck. Ibarra shot one officer in the leg during the ensuing shootout, and the chase lasted for about a mile before the truck crashed, Ibarra was fatally shot, and the other two men were arrested, authorities have said.
Jurors last week also heard evidence about an earlier attack, dating to September 2010, during which Segura-Rodriguez allegedly ordered four men to the floor of a West Lawn garage and held them at gunpoint; Ibarra then shot all four to death, authorities have said. Two young children belonging to the victims were in the garage while their father was killed.
It was proof, prosecutors said, that Segura-Rodriguez cannot claim ignorance about the killings in the Edgewater apartment. He knew what was going to happen when his compatriots ordered their victims to the ground because he had been part of a similar attack only a few months before, prosecutors argued.
And last week, jurors viewed Segura-Rodriguez's videotaped confession to police, a confession that Journey on Monday called "a complete sham."
For one thing, Journey noted, he got important details wrong about the September 2010 slayings, including which way the victims were facing on the ground and whether their mouths were duct taped.
But Assistant State's Attorney Kevin Nolan told jurors, Segura-Rodriguez's accounting of the Edgewater murders largely matches up with Leyva-Garcia's, except that Segura-Rodriguez claimed Ibarra, not Toscano, actually slit the mens' throats.
"Why do you suppose he puts the finger on the dead guy instead of the guy who just slit the throats of three people in his presence?" Nolan asked jurors. "I don't think you need to probe very deeply to arrive at the answer."
Toscano is awaiting trial on charges connected to the Edgewater slaying. Meanwhile, Segura-Rodriguez has been charged separately in the West Lawn garage attack; that case is still pending.