Two gang members were convicted Wednesday in the murder of a Chicago police officer who had responded to a call of shots fired in the West Englewood neighborhood in 2009.
The convictions by separate Cook County juries came more than two years after a third defendant was found guilty in the murder of Officer Alejandro “Alex” Valadez.
Prosecutors said Valadez, a tactical officer who had been with the department for less than four years, was fatally shot in the head and leg as two of the three alleged gang members opened fire from a car. They were seeking revenge for a shooting a short time earlier, prosecutors said.
One of the two juries had begun deliberations Tuesday, been sequestered overnight and reached its verdict Wednesday morning, convicting Kevin Walker, 25, the alleged driver, of first-degree murder as well as the attempted murder of Valadez’s police partner, Thomas Vargas.
The second jury deliberated for about six hours Wednesday before finding Christopher Harris, 24, guilty of murder and attempted murder. Prosecutors identified Harris as one of the gunmen.
In September 2011, a jury had convicted the other gunman, Shawn Gaston, 24, of the murder and attempted murder. He is serving 125 years in prison.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy shook hands and hugged Valadez’s family members Wednesday before he listened to closing arguments to the jury deciding Harris’ fate in a packed courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Court Building.
In her remarks to the jury, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who prosecuted the cases, said the three suspects were part of a “kill team.”
Prosecutors said Valadez, a 27-year-old expectant father, had responded with Vargas to a call of shots fired on the 6000 block of South Hermitage Avenue just after midnight June 1, 2009. The earlier gunfire had been aimed at the three gang members, according to prosecutors. The three drove away in a Pontiac G6, marked with a fresh bullet hole, to grab weapons of their own, Alvarez said.
When they returned, Valadez, in plainclothes but wearing a bulletproof vest and a duty belt, was questioning a man about the earlier gunfire.
Walker positioned the car so “they had a good shot,” Alvarez said. Harris opened fire from the back passenger seat with a .357 Magnum while Gaston fired a rifle, she said. A bullet pierced through Valadez’s left ear and lodged in his brain.
The weapons used in the killing were found in the trunk of the Pontiac the men had been driving, prosecutors said.
Gunshot residue tests from a swab on Harris’ hand came back positive, while Walker’s fingerprint was found on a .40-caliber gun also used in the crime, Alvarez said.
Harris’ attorney, Tod Urban, told jurors that prosecutors hadn’t proved that the car the three rode in or the guns found in the car were the ones used in the officer’s killing. He also said Harris was coerced into confessing his crime after hours of interrogation.
“It’s cold, he’s alone … he’s scared,” Urban said of the interrogation.
In court Wednesday, Harris wore glasses and a black and gray sweater.
“Don’t be fooled by the choir boy look, ladies and gentlemen,” Alvarez told jurors.
“Life is about choices,” the state’s attorney said. “Mr. Harris here made choices, too, and he made the choice that night to become a murderer.”