Family members of Mercedes “Mercy” Luque-Rosales were overwhelmed as they greeted the more than 500 people who came to her wake.
Her sister Carmen Nelson described the scene: “They said things like, ‘You don’t know us, but, when our daughter was killed, your sister came in and said, ‘I promise you we will try this, and they will serve their time.’ ”
Ms. Luque-Rosales, a child of Cuban immigrants who became a career prosecutor with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, formed bonds with families of crime victims as she supervised her office’s handling of drug, robbery, rape and murder cases. She helped them navigate the craters of shock, grief and depression.
Ms. Luque-Rosales died April 15 at her South Side home of a heart ailment. She was 56.
She had left the state’s attorney’s office in January and hoped for an appointment soon as an associate judge.
In her 29 years as a prosecutor, she built a reputation for courtroom strategy, colleagues said.
“That light in her office would always be burning the latest,” said lawyer Ignatius Villasenor. “If you were trying a case against Mercy, you knew you were in for a fight.”
At her wake, an admiring assistant public defender told relatives that, when she walked in to court and saw she’d be facing Ms. Luque-Rosales, “My stomach would tie up in knots — she was a bulldog.”
And eloquent, too.
“Her arguments brought a tear to my eye,” said Arthur F. Hill Jr., a former prosecutor, now a criminal court judge, who was one of her pallbearers.
“Mercy always lived up to her name,” said Thomas E. Epach Jr., a former chief of the state’s attorney’s criminal division. “Somewhere in that [courthouse] building, her name should be etched with all the other prosecutors who worked so hard to help innocent victims of crime . . . To go there every day for 29 years like Mercy did makes you a special person.”
Away from work, she doted on rescue dogs and her niece Katherine and nephews Andrew and Matthew. She lived with her mom, her sidekick attending musical theater. She saw “Les Miserables” and “Phantom of the Opera” so many times that “she could have understudied for every role,” her sister said.
On vacations to Hawaii, she and her mother always went to see Don Ho, the laid-back, lei-wearing crooner who made a career of the song “Tiny Bubbles.”
“They were there so often they became friends,” her sister said.
Her parents, Evangelina and Luis, once had comfortable lives in Cuba. As Fidel Castro tightened his power, though, they decided to build new lives in America — and never saw many relatives in Cuba again.
For a time, her parents worked at Fleet Carburetor, where her mom learned to fix the carburetor for the train at Kiddieland, her sister said.
Young Mercy attended Lowell grade school in Humboldt Park and Alvernia High School. Eventually, the Rosaleses moved to Austin.
She took public transportation to attend Loyola University in Rogers Park — one bus and two L rides away, a 90-minute journey twice a day. When she wasn’t studying, she worked at Marshall Field’s.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” was her favorite book and movie, and it helped inspire her to become a prosecutor, her sister said.
“She read it over and over,” Carmen Nelson said. “She even had a first edition.”
Ms. Luque-Rosales won a full scholarship to Creighton University School of Law, graduating at the top of her class, according to her sister.
“This kid got job offers and salaries you couldn’t imagine,” her sister said. “She said, no, my dream was always to be a prosecutor. She wanted to help victims’ families.”
A founding board member of the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois, “She was a mentor to countless other law students,” said attorney Juan Morado Jr.
People “heard Mercy speak at their event or school, and she was the one who inspired them to go to law school,” Morado said.
From 2011 to 2012, she was president of the National Hispanic Prosecutors Association.
“I don’t think there’s a Hispanic attorney who didn’t know her and wasn’t touched by her,” said Cook County Juvenile Court Judge Cynthia Ramirez.
Ms. Luque-Rosales loved Cher, Celine Dion and Neil Diamond. At one point, she even drove to Detroit to see Aretha Franklin perform.
In addition to her mother and sister, she is survived by her brother Luis. Services have been held.