Jurors convict man of shooting ATF agent

Reputed gang member Ernesto Godinez told his girlfriend after the shooting, “I feel good,” according to prosecutors.

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Ernesto Godinez is on trial in the shooting of a federal agent in Back of the Yards neighorhood. | Chicago Police Department

Ernesto Godinez, a reputed Latin Saint, allegedly thought the agents, wearing street clothes, were rival gang members.

Chicago Police Department

In the early morning hours of May 4, 2018, only a few people could be seen wandering the area in the Back of the Yards where a bullet would soon rip through an ATF agent’s face.

Surveillance video caught a team of federal agents trying to replace a tracking device in the 4400 block of South Hermitage. And it caught Ernesto Godinez, who could be seen scurrying into a nearby gangway.

“You don’t see anybody else come in or out of that gangway,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Eichenseer told a jury Monday.

Moments later, five gunshots erupted from the mouth of that gangway in two seconds, Eichenseer said. And then, Godinez could be seen darting away. Meanwhile, one of the bullets had torn through an ATF agent’s neck and exited between his eyes.

Late Monday afternoon, a jury convicted Godinez, 29, for the high-profile shooting. His sentencing hearing has been set for Sept. 19.

Godinez’s lawyers said they were disappointed with the verdict. U.S. Attorney John Lausch said “justice was done.”

Prosecutors say no one else could have pulled the trigger. But defense attorneys pointed Monday to one more person who appeared on the surveillance video — a person in a white shirt.

Godinez’s trial at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse began early last week. Jurors heard Friday from the ATF agent who was shot — and survived. He said he spent five nights in the hospital and had surgeries that involved placing a titanium plate and mesh in his face.

Prosecutors said Godinez, a member of the Latin Saints, had been patrolling the area early that morning when the ATF set out to replace the tracking device on a vehicle. An advance team had already driven through the area to scan for danger, records show. It had given an all-clear.

That’s when a second team arrived, and a group of agents in street clothes stepped out of a car to replace the tracking device. Nothing identified the agents as law enforcement. Godinez thought they were rival gang members, prosecutors allege.

Shortly after the 3:18 a.m. shooting, prosecutors say Godinez hopped into a car with his girlfriend, Victoria Jean-Baptiste. He allegedly told her, “I feel good . . . f--- that flake.”

“Flake” is slang for a rival gang member.

When Baptiste took the stand last week, she said Godinez told her, “I feel good.” Then he said, “f---.” Then, she said, he added “something about flakes.” On Monday, prosecutors accused her of trying to walk back the testimony she had given earlier to a grand jury — having realized how crucial it was to his prosecution.

“She’s trying to cover for the defendant,” Eichenseer said.

Meanwhile, defense attorney Lawrence Hyman used his closing argument to point out the person in the white shirt who also appeared on surveillance video. One of the ATF agents on the scene that night testified that, after the shooting started, he turned and saw “an individual with a white shirt down the block.”

Godinez had been wearing black.

Hyman also told jurors Godinez had stashed his marijuana in a trap house in the gangway and ran away after the shooting began.

“He did not fire a gun at all,” Hyman said.

However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kavitha Babu called the idea of a mystery shooter in a white shirt a “distraction.” That person appeared on the surveillance video nearly a half-hour before the shooting, she said. And five fresh bullet casings were found in the gangway, from which the shooter would have had a clear shot at the ATF agent, prosecutors said.

A ShotSpotter sensor also said the shots came from the gangway.

“None of that’s a coincidence,” Eichenseer said. “He’s the shooter.”

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