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Trial begins for gang member accused of killing toddler

Danzeal Finley | Cook County Sheriff's office photo

When no one answered the door at a Burnside neighborhood “cigarette house” on a spring night five years ago, Alberta Cole turned around and was about to make her way to the parked white Cutlass where her boyfriend and three girls waited.

Cole was leaving when she glimpsed a man in a dark hoodie running from a gangway to the car and then raising a weapon and firing eight to nine times.

Cole’s boyfriend, Jerome Hendricks, was able to speed away, but not before the couple’s 20-month-old daughter, Cynia Cole, was fatally shot in the head, Cook County prosecutors told jurors at the opening of the alleged killer’s trial Wednesday.

Cole, who remained on the porch, kept her eye on the gunman on that night, April 21, 2010. Just as he was about to run back into the gangway near the 600 block of East 92nd Place, the man’s hoodie came off and Cole saw his face illuminated by the street light above.

“It was Danzeal,” Cole testified. “I knew him from the neighborhood.”

Danzeal Finley, a Black P Stone gang member, was aiming for Hendricks, a Gangster Disciples member, Chicago Police said at time of Finley’s arrest.

A source told the Chicago Sun-Times then that Finley had previously been shot in the pelvis by Michael J. Wilson — one of Hendricks’ pals — and that Cynia’s shooting may have been related to Wilson’s upcoming trial.

On Wednesday, Cole said Finley, now 26, was a friend of Hendricks’ and often came over to the couple’s house.

During opening arguments, Assistant Public Defender Brendan Max said the investigation leading to Finley’s arrest was a “rush to judgment.” The defense attorney also said Cole, who identified Finley in a photo array and a lineup, was “mistaken.”

After the gunfire that night, Cole said she walked back home and saw the ambulance and police cars. Hendricks told her that Cynia had been shot and she told him that the shooter was his buddy, Finley.

“I told him, ‘You know the boy, the light-skinned boy with the green eyes and the braids,’ ” Cole testified.

Finley surrendered to police, accompanied by the Rev. James Meeks.

Earlier Wednesday, Chicago Police Officer Lynn Meuris broke down in tears recalling how she arrived at Hendricks’ and Cole’s home and found Hendricks’ mother cradling and tending to the bleeding Cynia.

Cynia died the next day at the University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital.

Finley’s trial is expected to resume before Judge Thomas Gainer Jr. on Thursday.