Alberta Cole said she immediately recognized the gunman who fired into the white Cutlass her boyfriend Jerome Hendricks and three daughters were sitting inside on a South Side street.
He was the light-skinned man who sometimes came over to the couple’s Burnside home. He was the guy with braids and green eyes, Cole said she told Hendricks when she learned their 20-month-old daughter Cynia Cole was shot in the head.
The man Cole described — Danzeal Finley — has brown eyes and although Cole is not a liar, Assistant Cook County Public Defender Brendan Max told jurors she made a mistake when she identified his client as Cynia’s killer.
“She is a mother. Of course she thinks she knows what she saw. Of course she is certain, but that doesn’t make it a fact,” Max said in his closing arguments Friday.
The jurors agreed.
After roughly three and a half hours of deliberations, they found Finley not guilty of murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm charges for the April 21, 2010, crime.
It was a “hard” decision to reach, a female juror who asked not be named said after Finley, 26, was acquitted.
“The state didn’t present enough evidence. All they had was an ID [from Cole] in the dark from far away.”
When the verdicts were read, a distraught relative of Cynia’s ran from Judge Thomas Gainer Jr.’s courtroom.
Conversely, Finley’s relatives were relieved.
“We knew the truth would be upheld,” said Finley’s mother, M’sheekha Marana’ta El.
“There was no evidence to place him there [at the scene of the crime]. There was no evidence he had a weapon. There was nothing to put him in that place at that time.”
She also pointed out that Hendricks, who police said was the target in the shooting, testified that he never had a beef with Finley.
Like Max, Finley’s mother said there was a rush to judgment in charging her son in the toddler’s death.
Police need to do their job thoroughly and not finger the wrong person, she said.
On the night of the shooting, Cole was trying to buy a smoke at a neighborhood “cigarette house” while Hendricks and their girls waited in their idling car.
When no one answered the door at the cigarette house in the 600 block of East 92nd Place, Cole turned around and saw a hail of gunfire shower over her loved ones.
Hendricks sped away to his nearby house, leaving Cole on the porch.
That’s when Cole said the gunman’s hoodie came off. She said she recognized the face illuminated by the street light above.
Finley “ran away hoping that no one saw him and hoping that he could get away with what he had done,” Assistant State’s Attorney Nina Ricci said.
She told jurors if they believed Cole, they should find Finley guilty.
During his closing arguments, Max criticized “bumbling” police officers for failing to look for forensic evidence.
However, prosecutor Thomas Mahoney noted that the absence of DNA and Finley’s fingerprints at the crime scene did not absolve Finley.
“He didn’t leave fingerprints but he left a face print embedded in the mind of Alberta Cole,” Mahoney said.
“He ran from a gangway and into the middle of a street and shot up a car. Where is he going to leave his DNA?”
No clear motive of the shooting was presented by prosecutors and defense attorneys during the three-day trial.
At the time of Finley’s arrest, police had said that Finley, a Black P Stone gang member, was aiming for Hendricks, a Gangster Disciples member.
A source also 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.
Finley had surrendered to police while accompanied by the Rev. James Meeks.
In 2010, Finley’s mother told Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell that her youngest son wasn’t a gang banger.
“I came up in a CHA project and we had to deal with factions — the GDs, the Vice Lords, El Rukns. But I had the ability to navigate [the gangs]. My son had that same ability. He is not a gang member,” she said.