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Judge cites failure to prove she was 
aware of murder plot
Chicago Tribune, February 7, 2001
By Hal Dardick
A young woman was found not guilty Tuesday in the February 1999 gang murder at the Howard Johnson hotel in North Aurora.

Kane County Circuit Judge James Doyle said prosecutors failed to prove that Melissa Sandoval, 19, who is formerly of North Aurora, was accountable for an attack that took place in the hotel.

‘They really did not show that she was ever aware of the murder plot,’ said Kathleen Colton. Sandoval’s attorney Sandoval had been held for nearly two years in the Kane County Correctional Center. She was released Tuesday.

Doyle acquitted her of all 15 charges against her, including four counts of first-degree murder citing a 2000 state Supreme Court ruling in an unrelated case that overturned Doyle’s 1995 murder conviction of Victor Perez.

In that ruling. the Supreme Court held that Perez’s presence at an Elgin murder without proof that he knew what was to occur or had a motive in the crime was in- sufficient to convict him.

“1 respectfully disagree with the judge’s ruling,” said Assistant State’s Atty. Sal LoPiccolo, who prosecuted the Sandoval case.

He noted that Sandoval signed a statement for North Aurora police in which she allegedly admitted being a getaway driver and knew of a plan to shoot rival gang members.

Sandoval, who testified last week. disavowed the statement and denied incriminating herself, contending she did not know about the plan.

She said she attended a party in the hotel and left with Patrick Inocencio, 18, formerly of Aurora, and Jesse Martinez, 20, formerly of Boulder Hill. both of whom belonged to a gang with which Sandoval associated. Another woman drove them to Aurora. she said.

Martinez and Inocencio also were charged in the slaying. Martinez’s trial is pending. Inocencio, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and is serving a 20-year prison term. testified last week that he picked up two guns in his home and then ordered Sandoval to drive him and Martinez back to the hotel. At the hotel, he ordered Sandoval to stay in the car. he testified.

According to Colton, Sandoval testified that she knew something bad was going to happen when she heard a click, as though from a weapon, sound from the back seat and saw Inocencio and Martinez put on the hoods of their sweat- shirts.

Sandoval said she disobeyed Inocencio and followed them into the hotel, where she went to the room occupied by youths believed to be rival gang members and saw Inocencio open fire.

Eric J. Johnson. 18, of Aurora, died in the shooting. Three other teenagers were shot but survived.

The states attorney’s office has subpoenaed Sandoval to testify at the trial of Martinez, who is to appear in court later this month.