COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — The trial for a man charged with killing Chicago Police Officer Alejandro "Alex" Valadez kicked off Monday with Cook County's top prosecutor telling jurors the accused killed the officer and then went to a party to smoke pot.
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez is personally prosecuting Christopher Harris, 24. In the wake of the officer's slaying, Alvarez championed legislation dubbed the "Valadez Law" that resulted in stronger criminal penalties for gang members convicted on weapons charges.
Kevin Walker, 26, is also charged in the case. He is being tried in the same courtroom as Harris, with separate juries hearing the cases together and occasionally being separated when evidence specific to one defendant is offered.
Shawn Gaston, a third co-defendant, was already been convicted in the case in 2011 and is serving a 125-year prison sentence.
Valadez, 27, was gunned down in June 2009, while working in the West Englewood neighborhood, where he was investigating reports of gunfire, Alvarez told jurors Monday.
Valadez and his partner were searching a vacant lot near 61st and Hermitage for evidence, possibly guns or shell casings, when he was allegedly cut down by gangbangers bent on revenge.
"Officer Valadez became another grim statistic," Alvarez said. "The defendant became a murderer."
As Valadez was asking a man passing by whether he'd heard any shots, a car with three armed men came toward them, Alvarez said. The man in the back seat stuck a .357 revolver out of the rear passenger-side window and opened fire, striking Valadez in the head and leg.
"What does he do? He shoots at them," Alvarez said, motioning across the courtroom toward Harris, his hands folded before him on the defense attorneys' table. "He shoots and he shoots and he shoots and he shoots. That's the way he showed respect for the work Officer Valadez was doing."
Two shots hit Valadez. The bullets later removed from his body matched the .357 Harris had with him, Alvarez said. And, gunshot residue was found on Harris' hands, she said.
Harris and cohorts allegedly stashed the guns in the trunk of their car and then Harris "joins the party and smokes his weed," Alvarez alleged.
Harris' defense attorney, Tod Urban, argued the case against his client hinges on the testimony of one witness who allegedly changed her story several weeks after the murder and blamed Harris.
"It's not as black and white as it appears to be," he said.
Harris' trial is expected to continue Tuesday, when Walker's trial is expected to begin.