SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- An Orange County jury on Thursday found Marcus Anthony Eriz guilty of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 6-year-old Aiden Leos in a road rage incident on the 55 Freeway.
Eriz, a Costa Mesa resident, was also found guilty of causing great bodily injury and death, and shooting at an occupied vehicle. He is facing the possibility of up to 40-years-to-life in prison when he is sentenced on April 12.
The verdict was announced in a Santa Ana courtroom Thursday morning. Seated alongside his defense attorney, Eriz did not visibly react when the jury's decision was read aloud.
"The heartbreak of a parent losing a child is so overwhelming that no word exists to describe it," Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement. "The short, happy life of Aiden Leos is a life interrupted, abruptly ended by a bullet that pierced Aiden's heart. The bullet not only killed a little 6-year-old boy; it ripped a hole in the heart of all of Orange County."
At a news conference outside the courtroom, Spitzer said he had notified Aiden's mother, Joanna Cloonan, of the verdict and she responded to him via text message.
"I wrote 'guilty of murder' and she said 'good, thank you Todd,'" Spitzer said, holding his cellphone up for reporters to see the exchange.
Asked how Cloonan was doing, Spitzer said he saw her immediately after she testified in court on Monday "and she is a completely broken-down person. To say that she was anything short of hysterical is an extreme understatement."
The DA said he spoke with her after her testimony and "told her how amazing she did."
"I celebrated the fact that this was an important thing for a mother to do," Spitzer said. "I gave her a hug and looked her right in the eye and let her know what a hero she is."
Aiden was fatally shot on May 21, 2021, 10 days after his birthday. He was sitting in a booster seat and his mother, Joanna Cloonan, was driving him to kindergarten at the time of the shooting.
According to accounts from Cloonan and witnesses who stopped to help her, another car cut off Cloonan, and she responded with a hand gesture. The car slipped in behind Cloonan, and then someone inside fired a shot through the rear of her car.
After a two-week manhunt, Eriz, now 26 years old, and his girlfriend, Wynne Lee, were arrested in connection with the shooting.
Lee was allegedly driving the car when the shooting took place. Investigators said Eriz was the passenger who shot at Cloonan's vehicle. She faces up to four years behind bars if convicted on charges of being an accessory after the fact and having a concealed firearm in a vehicle.
While Eriz's trial has ended, Lee has a pretrial hearing scheduled for Feb. 9.
The key question the jury considered during deliberations was Eriz's intent and state of mind when he fired his Glock 17 9mm at the Cloonan's car, piercing her vehicle and killing Aiden.
Eriz and his defense team 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 statement. "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."
Orange County prosecutors argued that whether Eriz 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 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."
During her testimony, Cloonan described what happened on the freeway after the shooting.
"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.