SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A jury on Thursday convicted a California man of murder for shooting to death a 6-year-old boy who was riding in the back of his mother's car on a busy freeway.
Jurors in Orange County found 26-year-old Marcus Eriz guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Aiden Leos, who was strapped in a booster seat on his way to kindergarten. They also found him guilty of shooting at an occupied motor vehicle.
Authorities said Eriz and his girlfriend, Wynne Lee, were heading to work on May 21, 2021, when Lee cut off a car driven by Aiden's mother, who responded with a rude gesture. Eriz pulled out a gun, reached out the window and fired a shot at the mother's car that went through the trunk and pierced Aiden's heart, authorities said.
The shooting shocked the county of 3 million, which relies heavily on a network of freeways to get to work and school, and drew international attention as authorities searched more than two weeks for the killer.
“If you shoot somebody or use violence in this county, and you harm an individual, you will pay the price,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer told reporters after the verdicts were read.
“Mr. Eriz is looking at 40 years to life. His life is over, and it's because he took the life of this precious, innocent little boy,” Spitzer said, pointing to a large photo on display of a smiling Aiden.
Eriz looked directly at jurors as they were polled after the verdicts were read. He is being held without bail and scheduled to be sentenced on April 12. Eriz's attorney, Randall Bethune, declined to comment Thursday.
Just over two weeks after the shooting, authorities arrested Eriz and Lee 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, Dan Feldman, senior deputy district attorney, told jurors during the trial.
Eriz's attorney argued his client didn't mean to kill anyone in what began as a road rage incident and didn't know he had until days later when a co-worker commented that Lee's car looked like the one authorities were searching for.
Lee, who has pleaded not guilty to being an accessory after the fact, is being tried separately.
Jurors began deliberations late Wednesday. They met for a little more than an hour Thursday when they announced they had reached a verdict, Feldman said.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard M. King thanked jurors and told them free counseling was available for them if needed.
“This has been a very trying case,” he said before dismissing them.