During Sandra Vasquez's eight-day trial, defense attorney Kathleen Colton painted her client as a caring mother of two who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time on Feb. 11, 2007, when she crashed her small sedan into a utility pole, killing five Oswego teens and injuring three others and herself.
"I really liked my client. She is a good person," Colton told reporters Wednesday outside the Kendall County Courthouse.
So it came as no surprise that the seasoned attorney was emotionally affected by the 21 guilty verdicts issued by jurors at the conclusion of Vasquez's aggravated drunken driving and reckless homicide trial on Wednesday afternoon.
"I've done death penalty cases easier than this," Colton said.
After receiving word that the jury had reached a verdict, Colton held the hand of her 26-year-old client as she entered the courtroom. The two walked together past rows of spectators whose eyes were fixed on the young woman at the center of a 3-1/2-year legal battle that was about to come to a close.
As the jury filed in, Colton rubbed Vasquez's back and braced herself for the eventually devastating outcome.
"It was a very heart-wrenching verdict," Colton lamented. "There were no winners."
Vasquez faces up to 28 years in prison when she is sentenced on Aug. 26. She must serve 85 percent of whatever sentence she is given.
Colton, however, said she hopes the sentencing date never comes.
The attorney told reporters Wednesday that she plans to file several post-trial motions, one of which will request a new trial for her client. Those motions will be heard by Judge Clint Hull on the day before Vasquez's sentencing.
If those motions are denied, Colton said she will ask that Vasquez be sentenced to probation, instead of the minimum of 6 years in prison typically required for the charges on which she was convicted.
Colton said she will ask Hull to rule that extraordinary circumstances apply in Vasquez's case, as she has committed no criminal offenses since the evening of the fatal crash and has adhered to every condition of her bond.
"She has led an exemplary life while the case has been pending," Colton said. "I believe several jurors were crying, which says to me it was a difficult verdict."Â”