Ottawa gunman strikes out on appeal

Avila loses second bid with appellate court

An Ottawa man convicted in a drive-by shooting in Marseilles during which one person was injured struck out Tuesday in his second bid with an appeals court.

Esteban M. Avila, 31, will continue serving his 12-year sentence for aggravated discharge of a firearm. He is scheduled for parole in spring 2028.

Avila denied firing nine shots from a 9-mm pistol on New Year’s Eve 2017 into a residence in the 300 block of Chicago Street. Although the evidence against him was circumstantial, Avila was convicted partly because shell casings were recovered from his vehicle. Avila appealed, but his conviction was upheld in 2021.

Last year, three members of Avila’s family said Avila’s then-attorney disregarded evidence that Avila had an alibi. At a hearing in La Salle County Circuit Court, Chief Judge H. Chris Ryan Jr. wouldn’t bite and upheld Avila’s conviction.

Avila appealed again, telling the 3rd District Appellate Court that he was deprived of the right to effective legal counsel in three ways. Avila alleged that his then-lawyer failed to offer alibi witnesses, mistakenly recommended that Avila opt for a bench trial rather than a jury trial, and stipulated facts that could have been disputed at trial.

The appeals court wouldn’t buy it, either.

In a unanimous ruling by Justice Adrienne Albrecht, the appeals court decided that all of these decisions were matters of trial strategy, which “enjoy a strong presumption that they reflect sound trial strategy, rather than incompetence, and are, therefore, generally immune from claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.”

The appellate justices also weren’t sure undoing any of Avila’s lawyer’s decisions would have made a difference.

“The bevy of evidence against [Avila], including motive and circumstantial evidence connecting him to the crime, independently supports his conviction and minimizes any potential influence from these witnesses’ testimony over the outcome of the case,” Albrecht wrote.

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