Jury starts deliberations in OC road-rage killing of 6-year-old Aiden Leos

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Thursday, January 25, 2024
Jury begins deliberations in OC road-rage shooting case
The trial of a man accused of murdering a 6-year-old boy on an Orange County freeway in 2021 wrapped up with closing arguments and is now in the jury's hands.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- The trial of a man accused of murdering a 6-year-old boy on an Orange County freeway in 2021 wrapped up Wednesday with closing arguments and is now in the jury's hands.

The key question for the jury to consider is the intent and state of mind of Marcus Anthony Eriz on May 21, 2021 when he fired his Glock 17 9mm at the car driven by Joanna Cloonan, piercing her vehicle and killing her son, Aiden Leos.

The jury deliberated briefly Wednesday afternoon and then is set to resume Thursday morning.

Eriz, now 26, and his defense team have conceded that he did indeed fire his weapon at the car. But his defense attorney argued that it was a spontaneous act with no intent to kill the child.

"The age and status of the victim is irrelevant, when you're talking about Mr. Eriz's mental state," defense attorney Randall Bethune said in Wednesday's closing. "There is no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Eriz even knew a child was in the car."

Bethune said his client was willing to accept responsibility to a lesser charge.

"Mr. Eriz acted rashly that day. He made a split decision act," Bethune said.

"This is a voluntary manslaughter case. Mr. Eriz is not a murderer."

Prosecutors are asking the jury to convict Eriz on several counts, including second degree murder and shooting at an occupied vehicle. They argue that whether he intended to kill Aiden or not, he acted with implied malice that led to the child's death.

"There can be no greater example of callous, cold-hearted, disregard for human life than firing at someone over a gesture, from a moving car as they drove away," said senior deputy district attorney Dan Feldman.

Eriz, who is being held without bail, faces 40 years to life in prison if convicted on the prosecution's charges.

What happened on the freeway

During the trial, witnesses testified that the shooting happened after an encounter between Cloonan and a white Volkswagen SportWagen on the 55 Freeway. The VW was being driven by Eriz's girlfriend, Wynne Lee, and reportedly swerved in and out of lanes then pulled up in front of Cloonan's car so quickly she had to hit the brakes.

Cloonan testified that she was frightened by the encounter and decided to put distance between her car and the VW. But before she did, she gave the middle finger gesture to the other vehicle.

Trial testimony indicated that Eriz then reached into the backseat of the VW, pulled out his Glock, racked it and fired at Cloonan's vehicle as she drove off.

"And as she drove away in the most cowardly fashion he fired a round at her to teach her a lesson because he had had enough of people getting hostile," Feldman said in his closing. "And it was up to him to show this woman not to disrespect him."

Eriz told investigators that he had started carrying around the Glock because he was noticing increased hostility on local freeways. When asked why he shot at Cloonan's car, he couldn't think of an answer, other than to say: "I don't have an answer. Because I'm stupid. I didn't think of anything. I didn't think of the consequences or anyone."

Cloonan testified that moments later she heard something hit her car and her son cry out in pain from the backseat.

"I heard a noise that sounded like a big rock hit the car," Cloonan recalled. "I heard my son say 'Ow'. I looked behind me and his head was hanging down."

"I immediately pulled over to the side of the freeway. I attempted to get him out of his car seat. I noticed that he was dying very quickly. I put my hand on his belly. I put him close to my body to try to save his life and I called 911."

Soon, bystanders, and then police and paramedics were all trying to help. They brought Aiden to Children's Hospital Orange County.

"I remember being surrounded. I couldn't see what was going on with him. I looked at the back of my car and saw a hole. And I asked a man, 'Is that a bullet hole? Is that what happened? and he said, 'It appears to be so.'"

Toward the end of her testimony, Cloonan was shown a picture of Aiden and she began crying on the stand.

The shooting set off a 16-day manhunt that ended with the arrest of Eriz and Lee.

Eriz's murder trial started in Orange County last week.

Lee was charged with being an accessory after the fact and possessing a concealed firearm in a vehicle. Her pretrial hearing is scheduled for Feb. 9.

Days after Aiden Leos was fatally shot on the 55 Freeway, the suspects ​got into another traffic altercation in which the alleged shooter waved a gun at another motorist, prosecutors say.

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