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Witness: 10-year-old girl was unintended target of gang shooting

9-3-2008 Chicago Police have arrested and charged four men in connection with last Monday's fatal shooting of a ten-year-old girl in the 8700 block of South Exchange Ave. Luis Pena, 20, of the 10800 block of South Avenue B. were each charged with one count of First Degree Murder and one count of Attempt First Degree Murder.

The shot that snuffed out Nequiel Fowler’s young life on Labor Day 2008 started with the words of a ranking Latin Dragon to an underling: “Go light up some Kings.”

With that, a former Dragon told jurors Tuesday, Luis Pena took a gun from Antoine Lacy and went after rival Latin Kings in the alley behind the 8700 blocks of South Exchange and South Escanaba avenues, a tenuous border between the two street gangs.

Only the unintended target was a 10-year-old little girl who was playing on her block with her blind little sister and neighbor children when a bullet struck her chest.

Joseph Chico took the stand in the murder trial against Pena, 23, of Chicago’s Southeast Side; Lacy, 29, of Sauk Village; and Raymond Jones, a 22-year-old from the Southeast Side who prosecutors described as a “gang wannabe” who was storing the gun for the gang. The trial started Tuesday morning in the Cook County Criminal Courthouse at 26th and California before three separate juries, one dedicated to each defendant.

Originally charged with Nequiel’s murder, too, and facing a possible minimum of 35 years behind bars, Chico cut a deal in July 2009 with prosecutors in which he agreed to testify against the others in exchange for a 14-year prison sentence for conspiracy to commit murder.

So defense attorneys hacked at his credibility in their opening statements earlier Tuesday.

Chico will say anything to save his own skin, said Earl Grinbarg, a defense attorney for accused shooter Pena.

“You must presume him innocent,” Grinbarg said of Pena, “and Joey Chico will presume you stupid.”

Chico was driving that Labor Day 2008, a “Mandatory Monday” for the Latin Dragons, who wore their colors and rode around with their gang gun looking for rivals on Escanaba and Exchange on the Southeast Side, Assistant State’s Attorney Jim Papa told jurors.

“It was shoot on sight,” Papa said during opening statements. “You shoot at the other gang.”

Sitting quietly with her own mother and other relatives, Nequiel’s mother, Linda Williams, cried at the mention of her elder daughter’s name.

None of the physical evidence matches Lacy, defense attorney Elizabeth Kucaba said. The fingerprint on the gun belongs to Jones; the DNA on the T-shirt found with the gun in Jones’ home is Pena’s, she said.

“You can’t use your sadness and the sadness you feel for Nequiel’s family in coming to your decision,” she told jurors. “You have to put that aside.”

Shelby Prusak, defense attorney for Jones, argued he isn’t intelligent enough to make competent decisions. Then she made Chico remove his orange jail shirt and undershirt on the witness stand to show jurors his tattooed upper body covered with women’s names, images of Jesus and insignias from the gangs he’s belonged to.

“Protect me from my friends,” he read from one on his lower left arm during cross examination, “I can handle my enemies.”

The trial continues Wednesday in Judge Kenneth J. Wadas’ courtroom.