Attorney for suspect accused in triple murder case seeks alternate expert

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An attorney for one of three teens charged with killing two women and an infant in a house fire wants to see if an expert can find another reason why the fire happened, according to recent court filings.

On May 17, Neil Patel, attorney for Manuel Escamilla, 19, of Joliet, filed a motion seeking to appoint an arson investigator to review the evidence to “see if a contrary conclusion can be reached” in a house fire that led to the deaths.

The motion requests the county pay for the expert because of Escamilla’s limited financial means. Patel said he doesn’t know yet what the amount would be. Patel said the motion might be heard before a Will County judge on June 27.

Escamilla, along with Eric Raya, 19, and Andy Cerros, 18, both of Joliet, face first-degree murder charges for allegedly firing a flare gun at a home on June 3, 2017 at 16 N. Center St. that caused a deadly fire.

Regina Rogers, 28; her 11-month-old daughter, Royalty Rogers; and Jacquetta Rogers, 29, were killed in the fire. The three men are also charged with attempting to kill Rakeem Venson, who escaped from the fire unharmed, and three counts of arson.

Raya’s attorneys with Tomczak Law Group are also seeking more information on the investigation of the fire from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The fire was initially investigated by the Joliet Fire Department.

Jeff Tomczak said his law firm wants to determine if the findings from ATF were scientifically sound.

“We feel there’s a real issue as to cause and effect. There was some other accelerants found at the time at the scene,” Tomczak said.

Patel’s motion claims the ATF’s report seemed to rely exclusively on eyewitness statements rather than physical and forensic evidence. The motion seeks the county to pay for an expert to review the case because Escamilla is of “very limited means,” not a high school graduate, has one child and no other assets and savings.

The motion argues the criminal trial will be “fundamentally unfair” if Escamilla is not able to access materials necessary for an effective defense.

ATF reports of the fire filed in court alleges a resident on Center Street interviewed by a Joliet police detective said she saw “a couple of bright flashes” on the day of the incident and a gunshot-like sound near her residence. She looked outside and saw flames.

Cerros allegedly said to a Joliet police detective he and other people in a car stopped in front of the home and fired two flares from two flare guns, according to the ATF report. One flare missed while another went into the home.