Not guilty verdict for Ruben Roman on gun case tied to Adam Toledo’s death
Judge Charles Burns said prosecutors built a strong circumstantial case, but the evidence was not strong enough to convict.
A judge Friday acquitted Ruben Roman on gun charges tied to a 2021 shooting that set in motion a series of events that ended with 13-year-old Adam Toledo being gunned down by a Chicago Police officer in 2021.
Judge Charles Burns said grainy surveillance video and forensic evidence put forward by prosecutors could not prove that Roman, then 21, was shooting at a passing car moments before police found Roman and Toledo walking in a nearby alley, or even that Roman had held the gun that was found next to Toledo’s body.
“I believe that this is a very strong circumstantial case, however with the oath that I take, I’m going to follow the law and follow the evidence, and I don’t feel at this point in time that the evidence presented by the state, while compelling, does not prove” that Roman fired or possessed the gun, Burns said.
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“I do not believe Mr. Roman is innocent, nor will I ever say that he is innocent. But there’s a difference between calling somebody innocent and saying someone is not guilty.”
Burns found Roman not guilty on three counts of aggravated use of a weapon and a count of reckless discharge of a firearm. Seated beside his public defenders and wearing a tan jail jumpsuit and surgical mask, Roman showed little reaction as Burns announced the verdict.
It was unclear whether Roman would be released Friday. He had been free on bond until August, when prosecutors filed a petition to revoke his bond after probation officers found bullets in the bedroom of Roman’s Maywood house during a home check.
After Burns’ verdict, prosecutors withdrew that violation of bond charge, but Roman had been on probation for a 2019 gun case at the time of his arrest in 2021, and it was not clear Friday whether he would be released from custody before going before the judge handling that case.
Much of the evidence gathered in the case was part of the investigation into the police shooting of Toledo, Roman’s lawyers said. Toledo’s death prompted protests across the city and was one of several police shootings in the spring of 2021 that led the Chicago Police Department to revise its policy on foot chases.
Prosecutors alleged Roman was standing beside Toledo as Roman fired multiple shots at a car passing the intersection of West 24th Street and South Sawyer Avenue in the early hours of March 29, 2021, gunshots that tripped ShotSpotter sensors and sent officers to the scene.
Responding police spotted Roman and Toledo in a nearby alley, starting a brief foot chase that ended with Officer Eric Stillman fatally shooting Toledo as the 13-year-old turned to face the officer, apparently a split-second after stashing a 9 mm pistol out of sight behind a fence.
But from the video, Burns said, he could not tell if the two figures had been firing the shots, nor identify them as Toledo and Roman. Testing found gunshot residue on Toledo but not on Roman, and DNA samples from the gun were a closer match for Toledo than Roman. Roman’s lawyers had pointed out there was more evidence linking Toledo to the shooting than there was to Roman.
While Roman had initially been charged with child endangerment counts, at trial he was facing four felony counts related to shooting at the car and none related to Toledo’s death.
The trial, which was conducted over two afternoons after Burns’ usual court call, featured surveillance video prosecutors said showed Roman shooting at a car and footage from the body-worn camera of Stillman’s partner, who also testified. Stillman, who is facing firing by the Chicago Police Board and is named in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Toledo’s mother, did not take the stand.
The verdict was a “disappointment” for Toledo’s family, attorney Joel Hirschhorn said Friday. Hirschhorn said in preparing the wrongful death lawsuit, he has viewed much of the evidence that was introduced at trial and believed there was enough to convict Roman.
“They’re very disappointed in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and the failure of the Chicago Police Department to prosecute the case,” Hirschhorn said. “Their investigation was focused on protecting Stillman. It was not focused on what precipitated all this.”
A year after the shooting, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx this spring announced she would not bring criminal charges against Stillman or the officer involved in another fatal shooting during a foot chase that took place a few days before Toledo’s death.