Road rage shooter who killed boy on 55 freeway made a ‘rash decision,’ man’s lawyer says – Press Enterprise

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Firing a single gunshot that killed 6-year-old Aiden Leos in the midst of an apparent road rage confrontation on the 55 Freeway in Orange was a rash act made with no thought of the potential consequences, the shooter’s attorney told jurors Thursday at the outset of his murder trial.

Two and a half years after a mother watched her son die in her arms on the side of the freeway — leaving the community gripped by the question of “Who shot Aiden” — the confessed gunman — now 26-year-old Marcus Anthony Erizis on trial for second degree murder.

During opening statements Thursday morning in a Santa Ana courtroom, Senior Deputy District Attorney Dan Feldman described the “senseless” car to car shooting as the result of Eriz’s “cold indifference.”

“This is an expression by Mr. Eriz of his callous and total disregard for human life, Aiden’s life,” the prosecutor said.

Eriz’s attorney, public defender Randall Bethune, acknowledged that Eriz fired the gunshot that killed Leos, but told jurors that it was “a mistake, a rash decision by a young man” who in the moment didn’t think about what would turn out to be “catastrophic consequences” of what he had done.

“He is not a monster,” the defense attorney said. “He is just a young guy who made a mistake … he didn’t mean to kill Aiden, he didn’t mean to kill anyone.”

The morning of the shooting began with a typical commute on the northbound 55 for both Aiden’s mother, who was taking him to kindergarten, and for Eriz and his girlfriend Wynne Lee, who were heading to work at a body shop in Highland.

The mother, Joanna Cloonan, had her Chevrolet Sonic cut off and nearly struck by Lee’s Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen. Lee flashed a peace sign, which the mother apparently took as sarcastic rather than genuine.

As Cloonan moved into the right lanes to exit the freeway she gave the middle finger to the Volkswagen out of frustration and anger, something the prosecutor said the mother “would come to regret beyond comprehension.”

Suddenly, the mother later told police, she heard “a sound like a rock hitting the car,” immediately followed by Aiden — who was strapped into a booster seat in the backseat of the vehicle — crying out.

A bullet had ripped through the trunk of the mother’s car, into Aiden’s back, through his liver and lung and pierced his heart before exiting his right abdomen, the prosecutor said.

In an emotional 911 call that was played in court, a hyperventilating Cloonan begged a 911 dispatcher who was struggling to understand what had happened for help before repeatedly calling out her son’s name, “Aiden, Aiden, Aiden!” before the call abruptly ended.

An off-duty law enforcement officer pulled over to help, but Aiden died within an hour.

With the help of another driver, investigators got a description and grainy photo of the Volkswagen. For two weeks they searched for the shooter, repeatedly putting out calls for community assistance as daily commuters on the 55 Freeway passed under banners asking, “Who shot Aiden?”

Police eventually traced the Volkswagen to Lee’s parents, learning they had given it to her as a gift. As the investigation continued, Lee and Eriz kept commuting daily from Costa Mesa to Highland.

Bethune, the defense attorney, said Eriz — who prefers to play video games and watch YouTube videos — didn’t watch or read the news and wasn’t aware of Aiden’s death or the growing manhunt until days later, when a coworker commented that the vehicle he commuted to work in looked like the one authorities were searching for. After looking up the news online and realizing what had happened, Eriz had “a complete panic attack,” his attorney added.

Eriz’s attorney echoed previous descriptions of Lee apparently initially being in denial about their role in Aiden’s death. Eriz told Lee, “If you want to call the cops I don’t blame you,” his attorney said.

“He says, ‘I think I killed the kid,” Bethune said. “She says, “No, you didn’t.”

Bethune acknowledged that Eriz put Lee’s car in a garage and the pair began commuting in his truck. But, the attorney said, Eriz opted not to contact police because he was worried about what could happen to Lee.

On June 6, more than two weeks after the shooting, the couple was arrested at their Costa Mesa home.

Eriz reportedly told investigators that he kept a loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun in the car “in case something happened.” The prosecutor said Eriz described seeing the mother extend her middle finger, then reaching into the glove compartment, grabbing the gun, racking a round, lowering his window and firing the gunshot.

Eriz’s attorney told jurors that Eriz “didn’t even take a second to aim.”

“He pointed and popped one off,” Bethune said.

When Lee immediately asked him why he did it, Eriz “didn’t really have an answer,” the defense attorney said.

Eriz told investigators that he didn’t see anyone but Cloonan in the other car when he opened fire. But the prosecutor noted that Eriz acknowledged she was merging away from his vehicle at the time, telling investigators, “That is when I grabbed my gun for some reason and shot at them.”

Eriz told investigators that he was sorry for the shooting, his attorney said, having learned in the days since the confrontation the consequences of his actions.

“The man who confessed had full hindsight of what happened and he had shame,” the defense attorney said. “The man who pulled the trigger did not.”

Eriz didn’t get rid of the gun — which was recovered by police — and did not try go on the run, his attorney noted.

Lee is facing lesser charges of being an accessory after the fact, and is expected to be tried separately from Eriz. Her jury trial has not yet been scheduled.

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