It took seven hours for a Kane County jury to return a not guilty verdict Wednesday, letting Arnoldo Aguilar walk out the same courtroom doors he walked into Monday morning when his first-degree murder trial began.
According to defense attorney Kathleen Colton, Aguilar, who remained stoic throughout the two-day trial, burst into tears after hearing the verdict.
“We really appreciate the time the jury took to examine the evidence in this case,” Colton said.
Aguilar was accused of gunning down 26-year-old Brian Lambert on May 18, 2001. Prosecutors said Aguilar and co-defendant Julian Acosta shot the man as he sat in a car on North Anderson Street in Aurora in an attempt to seal their status as Latin King gang members.
“There is not one scintilla of evidence that connects either of these young men to this crime,” Colton said Wednesday during closing arguments. Aguilar and Acosta were never identified by any eyewitnesses, nor were their fingerprints or DNA found on evidence related to the crime. Instead, they were implicated when witnesses came forward nearly a decade later, with allegations that Aguilar and Acosta had taken credit for the crime. The two were picked up in 2007 as part of “Operation First Degree Burn,” a jurisdictional sweep that charged dozens of gang members with murders stemming back as far as 1989.
Lack of physical evidence
Prosecutors said the men — high school students in May 2001 — shot and killed Lambert to gain entry into the Latin King street gang. They based this off of the testimony of several witnesses, but were unable to corroborate the statements with physical evidence
“There was no [identification] from anyone on the scene,” Colton said.
Three rival gang members, including one who was sitting next to Lambert when he was killed, all failed to give a race, weight, height or even sex of the shooters during testimony.
“You put that together with the lack of physical evidence, and the state’s case becomes this blank board,” Colton said, urging jurors to find Aguilar not guilty.
“Brian Lambert’s death is a tragedy for his family — for him. It is not honored by people coming into a courtroom telling tall tales and lying. It is not honored by a guilty verdict in this case,” Colton said. “It is honored by a not guilty verdict.”
During her closing, Colton poked at the credibility of the state’s witnesses, one who received a plea deal on a federal drug conspiracy case for his continued testimony about cold case crimes.
Assistant State’s Attorney Greg Sams said that it isn’t a jury’s job to like each witness, but to weigh the credibility of their testimony as a whole.
“Crimes conceived in Hell don’t have angels as witnesses,” Sams said. “The defense wants Mary Poppins to come in here and testify ... we are stuck with [Aguilar’s] people. His fellow gang members. We don’t choose. He chooses our witnesses for us.”
Sams instructed jurors to look at the consistencies between witness statements, and the lack of motivation five of the six civilian witnesses had for testifying.
“There is a synergistic credibility between all the witnesses,” he said. At least three different people told jurors over the trial that either Aguilar, or his co-defendant Julian Acosta, admitted to killing Lambert. While not consistent in every aspect, it was the statements as a whole that jurors should deem credible, Sams said.
“The circumstantial evidence in this case is overwhelming, Sams said. “...[Aguilar and Acosta] escaped that night. This defendant must not be allowed to escape today. He did it. He bragged about it, and now it’s time for him to pay.”
A long day
Jurors took their time, asking for transcripts and evidence to be sent back to them throughout the course of their deliberations.
Aguilar and his family waited nervously in the wings as the clock ticked on. Around 3:10 p.m., jurors asked the judge what they should do if, based on the limited information they had, they are unable to come up with a verdict. Judge Susan Boles instructed jurors to continue their deliberations, and three hours later, they had reached the not guilty verdict.