New witness testimony led to this week’s murder and attempted murder charges against a west suburban man who was previously arrested and charged in connection with Serenity Broughton’s fatal shooting but then released, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times Thursday.
When Aireon Luster was initially arrested for allegedly killing 7-year-old Serenity’s last month, Cook County prosecutors cited a lack of evidence and rejected charges against him.
That rejection brought an already simmering rift between State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office and Area 5 police detectives to a boil, leading police to sidestep prosecutors to charge Luster with Serenity’s murder — only to have to “uncharge” him roughly 10 hours later.
The case highlighted the strained relationship that has developed between Foxx’s office and police and left Serenity’s family wondering if they would ever get justice for her murder.
On Wednesday, Luster, 24, was again charged — this time by prosecutors — with being one of two alleged shooters who opened fire on the afternoon of Aug. 15 as Serenity’s mother was placing her and her sister Aubrey, 6, into the family’s car in the 6200 block of West Grand Avenue.
The hail of bullets were apparently meant for the girls’ uncle, but instead Serenity and Aubrey were struck in their chests, prosecutors said.
Serenity later died at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood.
“There were 29 shots fired here — 29 shots,” Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said during Luster’s bond hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse Thursday. Luster and the second gunman “lit up that block. They did not care who was out there in the middle of the afternoon,” Murphy said.
Prosecutors said the shooting stemmed from threats Luster, a member of the Mafia Insane Vice Lords street gang, had been trading with the girls’ uncle, who is a member of a rival gang, the Four Corner Hustlers.
Just before the shooting, the girls’ uncle responded to a threat by telling Luster “he knew where to find him,” Murphy said.
A half hour later, a silver Chevrolet Impala and its license plate was recorded by surveillance cameras as the vehicle drove down the block and was parked in a nearby alley, Murphy said.
Luster was allegedly seen getting out of the driver’s seat while another person took his place. Then, Luster and another passenger from the Impala walked down a nearby gangway, Murphy said.
What happened next wasn’t caught on surveillance video, but seconds later, a volley of shots rang out and Luster and the other shooter were seen running back to the waiting car, Murphy said.
Shell casings that were recovered showed two different weapons were used in the attack, Murphy said.
Luster also owns an Impala and cellphone records show he was in the area at the time of the shooting, Murphy said. However, the stolen license plates that were captured on surveillance cameras were not on Luster’s car when it was located later, Murphy said.
Sources have told the Sun-Times the girls’ uncle has been “uncooperative and remains uncooperative,” in helping with the investigation.
Murphy briefly mentioned Luster’s previous Sept. 1 arrest but didn’t go into detail about the charges being rejected then and the resulting tension between police and prosecutors.
Much of the evidence against Luster that was detailed in court Thursday appeared to have changed little from that time. But sources said two witnesses who have since testified before a grand jury made the difference in the state’s attorney’s office approving charges this time.
One witness is an associate of the girls’ uncle who knows Luster and saw him threaten the girls’ uncle on a FaceTime call just before the shooting, a law enforcement source said.
The second witness is a neighbor who saw the attack and later identified Luster from a photo lineup, but had not testified before a grand jury when detectives initially sought charges, that source said.
In a preview of the difficulties prosecutors will face as they take the case to trial, an assistant public defender disputed the strength of the evidence against Luster, saying the cellphone records unlikely pinpoint exactly how close his mobile had been to crime scene.
The defense attorney also suggested there could be issues with the witnesses’ identification of Luster and the quality of the surveillance recordings.
Before Judge David Navarro ordered Luster held without bail Thursday, he lamented that what took place before Serenity’s murder “started as part of some social media or dispute between two individuals, members of rival street gangs.
“It is the tragic reality of gang violence that unintended victims are often caught up in those violent and careless acts,” Navarro added.
Luster is expected back in court Nov. 3.