26-year-old Marcus Anthony Eriz was found guilty of second-degree murder in a road rage shooting that killed 6-year-old Aiden Leos on the 55 Freeway back in 2021.
The verdict was announced on Wednesday by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Eriz faces up to 40 years to life in prison.
Eriz’s girlfriend, 26-year-old Wynee Lee, was driving the vehicle at the time of the shooting. She is awaiting trial for being an accessory after the fact.
Aiden was sitting in a booster seat when he was fatally shot on May 21, 2021, while his mother, Joanna Cloonan, was driving him to kindergarten.
The dispute started when Lee cut off Cloonan, forcing her to suddenly brake to avoid a collision. Lee flashed a peace sign at Cloonan, which “angered” her and she gave a hand gesture back. Lee then slipped in behind Cloonan when shots were fired at the rear of her car.
The bullet went through the vehicle’s trunk, backseat and then through Aiden’s car seat before hitting him. Aiden was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The couple drove away after firing the weapon and both were taken into custody 2 weeks later.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Dan Feldman argued for a second-degree murder conviction while Eriz’s attorney, Randall Bethune of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, advocated for a voluntary manslaughter conviction.
Eriz opted not to testify on his behalf, leaving his hour-long statement to investigators to explain his actions.
The main legal issue in the trial is whether Eriz had time to reflect in the moments he reached into the backseat of the vehicle, grab the weapon, roll down the window, and point and shoot at Cloonan’s car.
Feldman said it showed what lawyers refer to as “implied malice,” while Bethune argued that Cloonan’s insulting them with a middle-finger provided enough provocation to knock it down from murder to manslaughter.
Eriz’s actions to grab the gun and fire it out the window met the legal burden for implied malice murder, Feldman argued. “This took thought,” he said. “This wasn’t an example of accidental discharge (of a gun).”
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