JOLIET – Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow announced Thursday that a jury found a Joliet man guilty on murder and arson charges in connection with a firebombing that killed a mother and her 4-year-old daughter in their home in the early morning hours of April 9, 2005.
The jury deliberated for less than two hours before handing down guilty verdicts on four counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated arson against Juan Santana, 28, of the 200 block of Illinois Street, Joliet.
Santana is scheduled to be sentenced before Circuit Judge Richard Schoenstedt on Oct. 26 for the killing of Maria DeLourdes Nunez, 35, and her young daughter, Merary Nunez. Santana faces a mandatory life sentence.
Firefighters found Nunez lying on top of her daughter in what they believe was a desperate attempt to protect her little girl from the smoke and fire that quickly engulfed the house after Santana and another man threw a firebomb through a first-floor window. Both Nunez and her daughter were dead by the time rescuers reached the second-floor bedroom of their house at 419 Madeline St. in Joliet’s St. Patrick’s Neighborhood.
Testimony during the six-day trial revealed that Santana firebombed the house because he believed one of Merary’s older brothers belonged to a rival gang. The brother, who was 14 at the time of the firebombing, testified he was a “pretend” gang member.
“Out of all of murders I’ve prosecuted over the years, this one ranks among the most cowardly and callous,” Glasgow said. “In his malevolent pursuit of retribution for perceived insults from a pretend gang banger, Juan Santana firebombed a house andsnuffed out the lives of a young mother and her innocent child.”
Nunez’s two sons were sleeping in the house when Santana and an accomplice threw the firebomb through the window. One of the brothers tried to put out what started as a small fire, but he abandoned his efforts as the flames and smoke spread, according to testimony.
Both brothers fled the burning building after their mother came downstairs to see what was happening. Nunez went back upstairs to the bedroom in an attempt to save Merary.
Witnesses for the state put Santana and another man, Ignacio Jacobo, 20, of Joliet, at the scene of the firebombing. Jacobo is awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated arson in connection with the firebombing.
One woman testified she saw two men running toward a white Jeep Cherokee with a red interior shortly after the house was firebombed. She memorized the license plate number and reported it to police, who traced the vehicle to its owner.
The owner of the Jeep testified he had lent his vehicle to Santana, Jacobo and another man, Sergio Anguiano, 23, of Joliet, on the night of the firebombing.
Anguiano, who testified for the prosecution, said he drove Santana and Jacobo to the scene. He testified he parked about a block away from the Nunez house but did not see the firebombing. Anguiano testified he did not know Santana and Jacobo intended to firebomb the house.
In exchange for Anguiano’s truthful testimony against both Santana and Jacobo, he will be allowed to enter a blind plead of guilty to charges of aggravated arson. He faces up to 20 years in prison upon conviction.
Two of Glasgow’s top prosecutors, First Assistant State’s Attorney Greg DeBord and Criminal Division Chief Lea Norbut-Sicinski, presented the state’s evidence in the case against Santana.
“They are two highly skilled trial lawyers whose presentation of testimony and evidence left the jury with absolutely no doubt who committed this cold-blooded murder,” Glasgow said. “The conviction removes this vicious killer from society.”
The murder case struck a personal chord for the state’s attorney, who grew up in the neighborhood where the firebombing occurred.
“When I visited the crime scene and looked at the charred remains of the Nunez home, I was standing where I had stood countless times as a child,” Glasgow said. “Two of my good friends from St. Pat’s Grade School had lived in the house right next door. It was one of our gathering places, and it was always a safe place for children to play.”
Glasgow continued: “Gang violence has tragically altered this once safe haven. However, we as a community have fought back hard with this critical jury verdict, which drives a stake clean through the heart of this beast that threatens the very security of us all.”
Jacobo’s case is pending in front of Judge Schoenstedt. Regarding Jacobo’s case, the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office reminds the public that a charge is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.