COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — After an emotional two-week trial, jurors found Heriberto Viramontes guilty in the Bucktown bat beating that left an Irish exchange student unable to speak or walk.
The jury deliberated for nearly three hours Thursday before finding Viramontes guilty of attempted murder, armed robbery and multiple charges of aggravated battery in the brutal 2010 beating of Natasha McShane and friend Stacy Jurich under a Damen Avenue viaduct.
"I am very pleased that this man has been held responsible for the brutal beating and senseless beating of Stacy Jurich and Natasha McShane," said Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Jurich and McShane's relatives were in tears after the verdict.
"The last three and a half years have been the hardest in my entire life," Jurich said outside the courtroom. "It was a struggle to have to face what happened to my best friend Natasha.
"To know that this person can never walk on the street again is a great comfort to me," Jurich said.
The charges against Viramontes had been reduced from 25 counts to 10. He could face up to 120 years in prison, and could be sentenced as soon as Nov. 10, his next court date.
Viramontes’ family defended him after the verdict, and complained it was handed down while they were out of the courtroom.
His public defender, Chandra Smith, said his family was “devastated.”
“We are disappointed by the verdict, and other than that we have nothing else to say,” she said, adding she plans to file an appeal.
During the nine-day trial, Viramontes frequently shot a half-smile to his family, a group of young women and his mother who wore all black on the first day of the trial and faithfully showed up to support him for the last two weeks.
During closing arguments Thursday, as he spoke to the jury on behalf of the state and the victims, Cook County Assistant State's Attorney John Maher rested on his shoulder the wooden Rawlings baseball bat allegedly used to beat McShane and Jurich.
"Whatever happened to the days of polite society when an armed robber would have said ... 'Give me all of your stuff?'" Maher asked. "Do you think those two girls would have put up a fight?
"Behold Heriberto Viramontes, every parent's nightmare," Maher told jurors.
Prosecutors also played recordings of phone conversations they said Viramontes made from jail after his arrest.
"I was high," the man on the recording said. "I did some stupid sh--. But it wasn't like that. I hit her once. I hit the other b---- once."
Jurors later asked for transcripts of those phone calls.
When it was their turn at the podium, Viramontes' attorneys said that what happened to McShane and Jurich was a tragedy, one that cannot be undone.
"It's also a tragedy for Mr. Viramontes. ... He is being charged w something he did not do," Assistant Public Defender Chandra Smith said. "You can change that situation for Mr. Viramontes. You can stop this tragedy."
The defense argued that the state's case relied on weak physical evidence and witnesses who have reasons to lie or were misguided.
Prosecutors have alleged that 34-year-old Viramontes crept up behind McShane and Jurich as they walked under a viaduct in the 1800 block of North Damen Avenue on their way home from a Bucktown bar and "unleashed his violent rage," beating and robbing them.
Smith told jurors that Jurich initially told police that her assailant was a black man.
"That's how we know the offender was a black man and not Mr. Viramontes," Smith said.
She said Viramontes' girlfriend, a stripper who admitted to giving multiple accounts of what happened the night of the attack, took the stand against him to get a deal from prosecutors.
The girlfriend, Marcy Cruz, testified that she waited in a van for him nearby. She pleaded guilty to her role in the attack and testified against him.
The beating left McShane, 23, at the time, with a severe brain injury.
McShane was looking for a better education when she came to "this glittering city," but instead her life was changed forever by Chicago's "underbelly," Assistant State's Attorney Margaret Ogarek said in opening statements.
Chicago "is a beacon to young minds eager to find and seek out adventure, education, culture," Ogarek said. McShane "was one of those young people."
Along with doctors who treated the women, and police and evidence technicians who testified for the prosecution, McShane's mother took the stand last week to tell jurors in a thick Irish accent how her daughter's life has been altered forever.