News - Joliet and Will County

Appellate court reverses Joliet man’s murder conviction

Jesus Zambrano

JOLIET — An appellate court has reversed a murder conviction for a Joliet man.

Jesus Zambrano, 26, of Joliet, was found guilty after a jury trial in August 2013 of one count of first-degree murder for killing Robert Gooch on May 22, 2009. Zambrano was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

Pedro Sanchez, of Joliet, was also tried and convicted for his role in the murder and is serving a 61-year sentence.

Zambrano appealed his sentence, challenging his attorneys’ failure to impeach Christian Lopez, a witness at the trial, with evidence that he received immunity to testify, as well as their failure to tender a jury instruction for accomplice testimony, according to the appellate court opinion.

Zambrano was represented by Chuck Bretz & Associates.

Lopez was called to testify for the state and said he was in the car with Zambrano, Sanchez and others who went to apartment where Gooch was.

“Zambrano asserts that defense counsel’s failures to present evidence that Lopez was granted use immunity to testify and to tender the jury instruction on accomplice testimony constitute objectively unreasonable performance and that the unreasonable performance prejudiced him and denied him a fair trial, violating his constitutional rights,” the opinion states.

The appellate court noted Zambrano’s attorneys attacked Lopez’s credibility but did not question him regarding use immunity – or testimony that will not be used against the witness – and the court was unable to determine whether that was the result of trial strategy or ineffective assistance of counsel.

But the court agreed with Zambrano’s contention that his attorneys were ineffective for failing to submit a jury instruction on accomplice testimony.

The court stated Lopez being granted use immunity further supports his role as accomplice and there would be no need to immunize him if he were not implicated in the shooting and involved in some way as an accomplice.

“We can ascertain no viable strategy for counsel’s failure to submit the instruction. We thus consider that counsel’s failure to tender the accomplice-witness instruction amounted to a deficient performance,” the court opinion states.

The court further stated that counsel’s failure to submit an instruction on accomplice testimony prejudiced Zambrano by depriving the jury of critical information needed to evaluate Lopez’s testimony.

Felix Sarver

Felix Sarver

Felix Sarver covers crime and courts for The Herald-News