A reputed gang member was convicted late Thursday night in the 2011 slaying of off-duty Chicago police Officer Clifton Lewis as he worked security at a West Side convenience store.
Cook County prosecutors said Alexander Villa shot Lewis after running into M&M Quick Foods in the North Austin neighborhood with a Tec-9-style gun slung around his neck.
A jury deliberated about 3½ hours before convicting Villa about 11:30 p.m. of first-degree murder, aggravated battery and armed robbery, said Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.
Villa, 31, faces up to life in prison. The judge will first take up post-trial motions on April 9 before imposing sentence at a later date.
Testimony and arguments in the four-day trial before Judge James Linn often stretched into the night at the Leighton Criminal Court Building.
Villa is the second of three defendants to be convicted in the killing of the eight-year police veteran, who just days before had become engaged to his longtime girlfriend.
Edgardo Colon was convicted in 2017 of acting as the getaway driver and sentenced to 84 years in prison.
Tyrone Clay, identified by prosecutors as a second gunman, is awaiting trial. Earlier this year, Judge Erica Reddick ruled that prosecutors could not use Clay’s statement to detectives after finding that Clay did not knowingly waive his constitutional rights before speaking with police.
Throughout Thursday, Linn’s courtroom was packed with uniformed Chicago police officers, some standing against the walls when the benches filled.
Scant physical evidence linked Villa, a reputed Spanish Cobras gang member who was not charged until nearly two years after the murder, to the crime.
Prosecutors relied on graphic video of the robbery and witnesses who said they overheard Villa admit to the shooting — though they did not come forward until long after the killing.
In closing arguments Thursday night, Assistant State’s Attorney Andrew Varga told jurors that Lewis announced his office the moment Villa entered the store in the 1200 block of North Austin Boulevard and pulled open his jacket to reveal a weapon.
“When that door opened and he did that Superman thing of exposing the gun, Cliff Lewis yelled, ‘Police!’” Varga said.
Villa’s attorney, Michael Clancy, argued that Villa was wrongly accused by police under pressure to solve the murder of one of their colleagues and that prosecutors played on jurors’ emotions during the trial.
Clancy also warned jurors that the witnesses who testified that they overheard Villa confess to the shooting cannot be trusted.
At trial this week, one of those witnesses, Melvin DeYoung, said authorities fed him the testimony he gave to a grand jury in 2012.
To counter that claim, prosecutors read his grand jury testimony into the record at trial. In that testimony, DeYoung had said that the night of Lewis’ killing, Villa jumped into a car with him, Clay and Colon, stashed his guns and announced, “Yeah, we got a little something.”
In other testimony this week, Destiny Rodriguez told jurors she overheard Villa bragging to her then-boyfriend about the shooting just hours after Lewis was killed — with a smile on his face.
On Thursday another prosecution witness, Ruben Rodriguez, who is not related to Destiny, testified that a few months after the shooting, he heard another Spanish Cobra berate Villa for getting away with only $700 and shooting a cop to boot.
“I had to pop somebody,” Villa allegedly said in response.
Neither witness came forward until long after the shooting.
To cast doubt on Ruben Rodriguez’s credibility, Clancy pointed out that he later told jurors in a separate case that the other Spanish Cobra kidnapped and assaulted him after the conversation with Villa — a far-fetched tale he apparently never gave Chicago police, Clancy said.
Ruben Rodriguez currently is serving time in Michigan for home invasion and armed robbery.
“I don’t care if they bring in 40 more people,” Clancy said. “… All of that means nothing when you have the undisputed evidence they can’t get away from.”
The security footage from the store does not clearly show Villa’s tattoos, Clancy said, and he noted that records show Villa sent a text to his sometime-girlfriend at the time that the two gunman were first shown walking up to the convenience store.
But prosecutors argued that the footage, while not particularly sharp, depicted Villa’s large neck tattoo and that Villa could have sent a quick text before he stepped into view of the security cameras.
Prosecutors had hoped to elicit testimony from Colon, the getaway driver, and Clay, Villa’s alleged fellow gunman — both of whom gave statements to Chicago police after the slaying.
But Colon said this week he would not answer questions despite a grant of immunity from prosecution. Judge Linn found him in contempt of court and said he could sentence Colon to as much as 30 years on top of the 84 years he is already serving.
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