La Salle County News

Prosecutors: Drive-by shooting was in retaliation for fight

Police line tape

A Marseilles drive-by shooting case went to trial Wednesday afternoon.

Esteban Avila, 25, of Ottawa, is charged with firing nine shots from a 9 mm pistol around 7:35 a.m. Dec. 31 at a two-story apartment house in the 300 block of Chicago Street. One of the bullets hit a 19-year-old woman in the back of her neck, causing a flesh wound.

Trial began at 1 p.m. and ended about 3:20 p.m. Avila opted to have Chief Judge H. Chris Ryan Jr. decide the facts, instead of a jury. Ryan will issue his decision Friday, Sept. 21. Avila remains in the county jail.

According to testimony, Avila was at an apartment with several other people the early morning of Dec. 31, when Avila got into a fist fight with a friend, coming out on the losing end. Avila shook hands with the friend, told the friend that the friend was a "man," and left. The apartment's occupants, all around ages 18 to 19, then lied down to sleep.

About 20 to 30 minutes later, shots were fired from the street at the apartment.

"I woke up and felt a burning sensation on my neck and saw drywall flying around," said the then 18-year-old woman who was hit.

The woman crawled to the bathroom and another woman in the apartment called 911.

Marseilles police found two bullets in the apartment, one on the floor and another embedded in a stud. On the street, they came across four spent, silver cartridge casings. At Avila's home on Ottawa's South Side, they found five more empty silver casings on the snow-covered roof and trunk of his white Kia, as well as at the bottom of the rear window and along the windshield wipers.

Prosecutor Matt Kidder played in court video surveillance recordings from a camera on a business in Marseilles and on McKinley Elementary School, that he said showed Avila's comings and goings in his car around the time of the shooting.

Kidder contended Avila shot at the apartment to avenge losing the earlier fist fight.

Avila's attorney, Fred Morelli, of Aurora, pointed out no gun or ammunition were found on Avila or at his home, and the video recordings do not show who is driving the car or even how many people were in the car.

Police took a sample of Avila's DNA, which was compared to DNA found on the cartridge casings. The tests were inconclusive as to identity, but on some of the casings was what was possibly DNA from a woman and a man. Morelli maintained the possibility of female DNA favored his client.

Police said Avila's hands were not tested for gunshot residue, because several hours elapsed before police had the chance to do tests, which was too long a period for successful testing. Morelli noted the absence of tests was another point in Avila's favor.

Morelli further noted Avila and the man with whom he fought parted on good terms with a handshake, indicating Avila wasn't looking to retaliate.

"I can't stress that enough," Morelli said of the handshake.

Morelli argued there was reasonable doubt as to Avila's guilt. Instead, Morelli suggested one of Avila's family members, with whom Avila lived, may have driven to Marseilles and fired the shots in revenge for their kin's loss of face in the fight.

Avila did not testify during the trial.