Man gets 40 years to life for fatally shooting 6-year-old Aiden Leos on Costa Mesa Freeway

With a portrait of 6-year-old Aiden Leos, Joanna Cloonan holds a teddy bear alongside her daughter, Alexis.
With a portrait of 6-year-old Aiden Leos, Joanna Cloonan stands with her daughter, Alexis, during a June 2021 event discussing plans to dedicate a plaque at the Orange County Zoo for her late son. The man convicted of the road-rage killing of Aiden was sentenced Friday.
(File Photo)

A man who opened fire at a car during a road-rage confrontation on the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway, killing a 6-year-old boy who was strapped in a child seat as his mother drove him to kindergarten in Yorba Linda, was sentenced Friday to 40 years to life in prison.

Marcus Anthony Eriz, 26, of Costa Mesa, was convicted in January of second-degree murder and firing at an occupied vehicle for the deadly May 21, 2021, shooting on the freeway that killed Aiden Leos. Jurors also found true allegations of personal use of a handgun.

Co-defendant Wynne Lee, 26, Eriz’s girlfriend, is awaiting trial for being an accessory after the fact. Eriz was a passenger in the car driven by Lee when the shooting occurred.


Aiden’s mother, Joanna Cloonan, was driving her Chevrolet Sonic with the child strapped into a child seat in the back seat of the vehicle, taking the boy to kindergarten in Yorba Linda. At about 8 a.m., Cloonan and her son were cut off by the defendants in a Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen with Lee behind the wheel of the car. Lee made a peace sign, which Cloonan took as sarcastic, and a few miles later as Cloonan was merging over to the Riverside (91) Freeway east she passed the defendants and gave them a middle finger, Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Feldman said during opening statements of the trial.

 Marcus Anthony Eriz at the start of the trial in Central Courthouse in Santa Ana.
Marcus Anthony Eriz, a Costa Mesa man accused of killing a 6-year-old Aiden Leos in a road-rage, listens to opening statements at the start of the trial in a Santa Ana courtroom in January. He was sentenced Friday to 40 years to life.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The defendants then positioned their car behind Cloonan’s, and Eriz fired a shot from a 9-millimeter Glock that struck the Chevrolet, went into the passenger compartment and hit the boy.

Cloonan, who was northbound on the freeway, heard a loud bang that sounded like a rock striking her vehicle followed by her son’s cry, Feldman said. She immediately pulled over, the prosecutor added.

Her son, who had turned 6 a week and a half before the shooting, was bleeding from a bullet that ripped through his liver, lungs and heart before coming out of his abdomen, Feldman said. The boy died in her arms.

Lee and Eriz, who lived together in a Costa Mesa apartment, were driving to their workplace at Gerber Glass, a collision repair shop, Feldman said. Eriz kept his loaded gun in the car.

During the sentencing hearing, Eriz issued an emotional apology to Cloonan and her family, referring to Aiden as “a son, a little brother and a friend to others,” as well as “truly one of God’s little angels.”

“I am so sorry for ever hurting him, and the pain he went through because of me,” Eriz said.

He later added, “Ms. Cloonan, I am truly sorry.”

Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard King acknowledged Eriz’s apology, but said he killed “the most vulnerable victim that you can even imagine” — a 6-year-old boy in the back seat of his mother’s car, going to school.

“She, the mom, did some driving maneuver that caused your girlfriend to give the peace sign, that caused the mom to flip [you] off, that caused you to get behind the car,” the judge said. “And in that particular moment, you had the power. And the power was that handgun. And whether it was to impress your girlfriend, to release your anger, you fired. And that little boy died. And when everything is said and done, that’s what happened.”

King said there was “no legal justification being provoked other than, ‘I’m going to get back at her.’”

As for the mother’s suffering, King said, “I don’t think the English language can even attempt to describe what Aiden’s mother went through after he says ‘ouch.’ ... She pulls over and her little boy dies in her arms. I don’t think anyone can comprehend what the rest of her life is going to be like. And the court puts a great weight on that.”

Orange County Dist. Atty Todd Spitzer recalled after the hearing Friday how he said during a news conference while authorities were looking for the killer that he wanted the shooter to turn himself in or else he would bring the full force of the law on him.

“He didn’t, and we had to find him and catch him,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer railed against the defense attorney and state legislators for laws that give judges discretion to strike gun-use enhancements in some cases for defendants 25 and younger. Spitzer claimed that gang members are taking advantage of the law to “give the gun to a kid,” who will get a lesser sentence.