Suspect charged with murder in road rage shooting death of Aiden Leos
Suspect charged with murder in road rage shooting death of Aiden Leos
A former auto body shop worker who boasted about his love of guns on Instagram is now facing the possibility of life in prison for his alleged role in the road rage shooting death of 6-year-old Aiden Leos.
Marcus Anthony Eriz, 24, has been charged with murder and discharging a gun into an occupied vehicle, the Orange County district attorney’s office announced Tuesday, with sentencing enhancements for firing a gun and causing great bodily injury or death.
Wynne Lee, who authorities say was driving the car from which Eriz fired the fatal shot, has been charged with one felony count of accessory after the fact and a misdemeanor count of having a concealed firearm in a vehicle. Prosecutors say Lee, 23, concealed the shooting, which led to the accessory charge.
The charges against Eriz mean he could face 40 years to life in prison if convicted, while Lee faces up to three years in prison and one year in jail if convicted of her two charges. The pair’s arraignment, scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, was postponed until June 18.
“Mr. Eriz, if he is convicted on any or both charges, will spend a significant portion of his adult life in prison,” Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said during a media briefing Tuesday.
The charges allege that Eriz committed the murder with “malice aforethought,” of which there are two kinds: Express malice, when the accused intended to kill the victim, and implied malice, when the accused demonstrated a conscious disregard for human life.
Spitzer said he believes he can prove implied malice in the case using the depraved heart theory.
In a depraved heart murder case, an individual acts in a way that shows a depraved indifference to human life and recklessly engages in conduct that not only creates a grave risk of death to another person, but also causes their death.
“Our theory today is that it’s reckless indifference to life,” Spitzer said.
Based on the evidence, prosecutors said they could not file murder charges against Lee on Tuesday, noting that her actions after the shooting — and not any conduct before — led to the charges against her.
The couple were taken into custody Sunday at their home in Costa Mesa, more than two weeks after Aiden was fatally shot while riding in a booster seat in the back of his mother’s car. The boy was struck by a bullet in an apparent act of road rage on the Orange County freeway, authorities said.
“We would not file these charges unless we could prove them beyond a reasonable doubt,” Spitzer said, adding that he’s “absolutely convinced” they are “rock solid.”
Spitzer also noted that there is no evidence that any other people were involved in the fatal shooting. He called on the community not to harass the suspects’ relatives or other residents at their homes.
In court Tuesday, Eriz appeared on video from the county jail while Lee agreed to appear only via audio for reasons that were not explained. She spoke in a soft voice when addressing the judge to agree to delay her arraignment.
Bail had initially been set at $1 million each. Prosecutors argued that Eriz’s bail should be increased to $2 million due to the seriousness of the crime, and because they said he posed a danger to the public and was a flight risk.
They also requested that Lee’s bail be set at $500,000 — less than the initial amount, but more than it would typically be based on her charges.
Judge Larry Yellin agreed to the revised amounts, but said that they may be adjusted at the June 18 arraignment, and that it is probable Lee’s amount will be reduced. Spitzer said his office will submit a brief to the court with the justifications for bail at those levels.
Aiden’s death on the morning of May 21 left the Orange County community reeling and looking for answers.
That morning, Aiden’s mother, Joanna Cloonan, told another motorist that she and her son were in the carpool lane when another car cut her off as she started switching lanes to exit.
She made an obscene gesture toward the people in the other car, who then maneuvered behind her and fired a gun at her vehicle, officials said.
A bullet entered Cloonan’s car from the rear, striking her son through his back.
She pulled over and took the bleeding boy into her arms until paramedics arrived. Doctors could not save him.
“It could’ve happened to any one of us,” Spitzer said while holding up a photograph of Aiden during a news conference Monday. “We all drive the freeways of Southern California. We’ve all gotten upset at other motorists, other motorists have gotten upset at us. I’ve thrown some gestures about myself. But it’s never come to a situation of violence and certainly not in my realm or your realm, to the loss of a life.”
Neither of the suspects nor their attorneys could be reached for comment.
The Walnut Avenue overpass above the 55 Freeway where Aiden was shot now acts as a makeshift memorial, with balloons, stuffed animals and signs honoring the little boy.
Other details have emerged about Eriz and Lee in the days since their arrest.
Eriz grew up in Weaverville near Redding, with family in the Whittier area. He often shared content on social media about cars and guns. He posted several pictures and videos of himself shooting an array of assault-style rifles and pistols outdoors and at a shooting range. One of the weapons he displayed was capable of delivering the shot that killed Aiden, officials said.
Spitzer on Tuesday said he believed the gun recovered by California Highway Patrol officials this week was registered to Eriz, but did not say where it was recovered.
A source with the agency said the vehicle used in the shooting, a white 2018 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen SE, was in the garage of a Whittier home belonging to one of Eriz’s relatives and that the relative has been away from the home.
CHP Border Division Assistant Chief Donald Goodbrand said Tuesday that there are about 20,000 such cars in the immediate four-county area and that investigators were able to narrow that number down to about 130.
Eriz worked at an auto body shop in Corona and reportedly left in January, but in recent weeks, he texted and asked for his job back, his former boss told KCBS-TV Channel 2. Investigators said Eriz changed his appearance after the shooting, shaving off a large black beard that had been seen in many of his Instagram photos.
Lee grew up in Diamond Bar, where she attended Diamond Bar High School and Mt. San Antonio College.
Surveillance, investigation and tips all played a part in identifying Eriz and Lee, officials said. But Spitzer said officials could not discuss the specific investigation techniques.
After circulating an image of the white vehicle said to belong to the suspects in the weeks after the shooting, investigators received hundreds of calls and emails. A reward funded by family members, donations, county officials and local businesses climbed to $500,000.
Officials are still reviewing the potential distribution of that reward. Spitzer said it is contingent upon both an arrest and a conviction.
Calling it an “intensive manhunt,” Goodbrand said several agencies, including the CHP, the Orange County district attorney’s office and other law enforcement officials and leadership in Orange County and Southern California helped with the case.
“Never in my 25-year career have I witnessed those components work together so strongly to solve a crime as I have during this investigation,” he said.
Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner, whose office contributed $50,000 to the reward fund, thanked the community for its support.
“This is a crime that obviously grabbed the heartstrings of the community and allowed us to come together in some effort toward healing,” he said Tuesday. “It allowed us to collectively say we will pursue justice in this county.”
to continue reading