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Garcia found guilty of murdering Zion teen

Jose M. Garci18 655 Deepwoods Mundelewas convictd first-degree murder Friday shooting death Gabriel Gonzales 19 Ziparking lot 1015 Fairfield Road

Jose M. Garcia, 18, of 655 Deepwoods in Mundelein was convictd of first-degree murder on Friday in the shooting death of Gabriel Gonzales, 19, of Zion in a parking lot at 1015 Fairfield Road in Round Lake Beach. | SPECIAL TO SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Updated: March 11, 2014 6:21AM

Jose Garcia was found guilty of first-degree murder by a Lake County Jury on Friday night, after his weeklong trial in the fatal March 2013 shooting of 19-year-old Gabriel Gonzalez of Zion outside a Round Lake Beach convenience store.

Garcia, 19, of Mundelein, faces a possible sentence of life in prison, as the jury found him guilty of enhanced counts that can exceed the normal 20- to 60-year sentencing range. The verdict came in at about 10 p.m. Friday, after six hours of deliberations.

One of two men charged in the murder, Garcia was identified by prosecutors as the triggerman in the shooting.

As they waited for the verdict to be returned, Juan and Jesus Gonzalez, Gabriel’s brothers, who attended most of the trial, said he was a happy person who steered clear of problems, and that they had planned to see him later on the morning he was shot.

“He was fun. Always happy, living life,” Jesus said. “That Sunday, we were all supposed to meet at our mom’s for breakfast.”

Garcia testified as the trial neared closing arguments Friday that another defendant in the case, Jose Rebollar-Vergara, 24, of Round Lake Park, shot Gonzalez. He also said that he, Rebollar-Vergara and a third man with them at the store were members of the Latin Kings street gang.

Officials said Garcia and Rebollar-Vergara targeted Gonzalez because he was wearing a cap tilted to the right, a look they believed to be an insult to their gang.

Juan Gonzalez said his brother Gabriel “was never in a gang. He stayed away from gangs.”

Prosecutors also said they did not believe Gonzalez was involved with gangs, but walked into the wrong situation at the wrong time, and was shot as he tried to walk away from confrontation. Assistant State’s Attorney Reginald Mathews said Gonzalez was shot because he wore his Bulls cap “stylishly to the right.”

Gonzalez was shot outside a Fairfield Road convenience store, where surveillance cameras caught images of the victim, as well as Garcia and Rebollar-Vergara, in the store prior to the murder, and captured shadowy film of the shooting, which took place in the parking lot after midnight on March 10.

In closing arguments, Mathews and Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Money said evidence in the case overwhelmingly proved Garcia was guilty.

They cited 10 shell cases on the ground next to where Garcia is seen outside the store in the videotape, testimony from a witness who said he saw Garcia shoot Gonzalez, gunshot residue on Garcia’s hoodie and glove and Garcia’s videotaped confession to investigators of the Lake County Major Crime Task Force.

Defense attorney James Schwarzbach had argued that the videotape recording outside the store actually shows Rebollar-Vergara as the likely shooter, and that every other offer of proof from the state also contained at least “reasonable doubt.”

Schwarzbach claimed investigators coerced Garcia’s confession by telling him his family could be targets of gang retaliation if he didn’t take responsibility for the shooting.

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