JOLIET – Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow announced Thursday that a Will County judge sentenced a Joliet man who firebombed a house and killed a mother and her 4-year-old daughter to life in prison.
A jury in August found Juan Santana, 28, of the 200 block of Illinois Street, Joliet, guilty on four counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated arson.
Santana threw a firebomb through a window of a house at 419 Madeline St. in Joliet’s St. Patrick’s Neighborhood in the early-morning hours of April 9, 2005. A fire spread quickly through the two-story house. Maria DeLourdes Nunez, 35, and her young daughter, Merary Nunez, died from smoke inhalation in an upstairs bedroom.
Firefighters found Nunez lying on top of Merary in what they believe was a desperate attempt to protect her daughter from the smoke and fire that engulfed the house after Santana and an alleged accomplice threw the firebomb through a first-floor window. Both Nunez and her daughter were dead by the time rescuers reached them.
Circuit Judge Richard Schoenstedt handed down the life sentence for the murder charges and 30 years for the arson charge.
Testimony during the six-day trial in August 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.
“Juan Santana crept up on a house under cover of night and lobbed a firebomb through a window,” Glasgow said. “This 28-year-old man planned a gutless act of retribution against a 14-year-old boy. Instead, his vicious act of violence claimed the lives of an innocent young mother and her daughter. The community can rest assured that this coward will spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Nunez’s two sons were sleeping in the house when Santana and an accomplice threw the firebomb. One of the brothers tried to put out what started as a small fire, but he abandoned his efforts as flames and smoke spread, according to testimony.
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 during the trial that 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 his truthful testimony, Anguiano 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.
“These two first-class prosecutors left jurors no doubt as to who committed this horrible crime,” Glasgow said. “They deserve credit for taking a cold-blooded killer off our streets.”
He also praised Joliet police for conducting an investigation that led to Santana.
Jacobo’s case is pending in front of Judge Schoenstedt. 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.