SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A prosecutor said Thursday that a California man acted callously in pulling out his gun and firing a shot at a car traveling on the freeway, killing a 6-year-old boy who was riding in the back in a booster seat.
Marcus Eriz, who is now 26, sat in the courtroom during opening statements in his trial on a charge of murder in the death of Aiden Leos while the boy’s mother was driving him to kindergarten on one of the most congested freeways in Orange County in 2021. Eriz and his girlfriend, Wynne Lee, were heading to work when Lee cut off a car driven by Leos’ mother, who responded with a rude gesture, authorities said.
The mother heard a bang and her son say “ow” and pulled over to the side of the 55 freeway, where she saw he was bleeding. A bullet had ripped through the car trunk and back seat, piercing the boy’s liver, lung and heart, said Daniel Feldman, senior deputy district attorney, who played a 911 call in court where the mother pleaded desperately for help and repeatedly called out her son’s name.
“This is not a road rage case,” Feldman said. “This is an expression by Mr. Eriz of cold indifference. This is an expression by Mr. Eriz of his callous and total disregard for human life.”
The May 21, 2021, shooting drew national attention and sparked outrage in the county of 3 million people where residents depend on a vast network of freeways to get to work and school. It also sparked a days-long manhunt for the suspect where authorities pleaded for tips and posted information about rewards.
Police arrested Eriz and Lee a little more than two weeks after the shooting outside their apartment in the Orange County city of Costa Mesa after chasing leads to the white car she had been driving. Eriz told police he pulled out his gun and fired the shot, knowing it was dangerous, Feldman said.
But Eriz didn’t mean to kill anyone in what started out as a road rage incident and had no idea what he had done until days later, when a co-worker commented that Eriz girlfriend’s car looked like the one that authorities were searching for in connection with the case, said Randall Bethune, Eriz’s attorney.
Eriz told Lee, who worked with him at a collision-repair business in nearby San Bernardino County, that he thought he had killed the boy, and she reassured him he hadn’t, Bethune told jurors.
“He had no hindsight, no clue as to the consequence of his actions in the moment,” Bethune said.
“Mr. Eriz told police exactly what happened. He’s not a monster,” Bethune said. “He didn’t mean to kill Aiden. He didn’t mean to kill anyone.”
Eriz, who is being held without bail, has pleaded not guilty to murder and discharging a firearm at a vehicle.
Lee, who is charged with being an accessory after the fact and having a concealed firearm in the vehicle, is being tried separately. She has pleaded not guilty.
On Thursday, a driver who said he saw the gunshot fired out of the white car and an off-duty police officer who pulled over and administered CPR to the boy testified in the courtroom in Santa Ana. The boy’s mother is expected to testify next week, Feldman said.
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