In closing arguments in the Joshua Ezeka murder trial Tuesday, the defense argued that he only meant to send a message to a rival gang member. But the prosecution maintained Ezeka was out to kill that day and must pay the price for what happened.
The case is now in the hands of the jury, which will return Wednesday morning to decide whether Ezeka is responsible for the murder of 56-year-old Birdell Beeks. Deliberations could stretch late into the week.
Defense attorney Paul Schneck said that Ezeka feared the gang member was coming to shoot up his house. In his remarks, Schneck picked at police’s tactics during the monthslong investigation into Beeks’ death and asked the jury to consider Ezeka’s age — he was 20 at the time of the shooting — and immersion in the gang culture.
“Remember that we’re talking about what was going through the mind of a 20 year old,” he said.
But prosecutor Dominick Mathews told jurors premeditation can occur in a split-second — and did in this case — and since Ezeka, 21, intended to kill his rival, he must pay the consequences for Beeks’ death.
Ezeka, who is a documented gang member, was charged last year on several charges including first-degree premeditated murder.
Prosecutors said that in May 2016, Ezeka received a frantic call from a co-defendant, Freddy Scott, warning him that a carful of rival gang members were headed his way. Police say that Scott, like Ezeka, is a member of the Low End, a loose coalition of North Side gangs. For the past several years, the Low End has been locked in a violent struggle with another gang alliance calling itself the High End.
During the weeklong trial, prosecutors said that Ezeka, sensing an opportunity to “smoke” a High End who dared drive through his territory, grabbed his gun and fired nine shots at the rival’s approaching car.
“Before he confirmed who all was in the vehicle, he unloaded his Bersa .380,” said Mathews.
Only one of the shots hit the intended target. Another slammed into Beeks’ minivan, which had stopped at a stop sign, mortally wounding her. Her 16-year-old granddaughter, who was sitting next to Beeks when gunfire broke out, was unharmed.
Afterward, Ezeka jumped into the waiting car of the friend who called him, Scott.
The defense argued that Ezeka feared for his life and ran outside and started firing at the gold car, intending only to scare his rival, the defense said.
Ezeka didn’t turn himself in out of shame for killing an innocent woman, Schneck said.
But prosecutors countered that the rival, whose goes by “Sto” on the streets, while armed, wasn’t planning a hit. Instead, he was driving through the neighborhood after picking up one of his girlfriend’s children from school.
Ezeka has pleaded not guilty to all charges.