COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Two gangbangers were gunning for a member of the Spanish Gangster Disciples in 2009 when they allegedly doused the stairs of an Albany Park apartment building with gasoline and set the dwelling ablaze.
But the flames never found their target, prosecutors said. Instead, the fire ripped through the three-flat, killing a pregnant woman and her daughter and injuring several other residents.
Now, almost five years after Rosanna Ocampo, 23, and 7-year-old Itzel Fernandez fell victim to an ill-conceived plot of gang vengeance, one of the two alleged culprits is standing trial for murder.
Jovan Djurdjlov, a reputed Spanish Cobra who goes by the name "Yogi" according to witnesses, was 18 at the time of the fatal fire on Jan. 31, 2009. Prosecutors have said he and an accomplice set the fire.
Djurdjlov was later identified by another Spanish Cobra who testified under subpoena Tuesday that "Yogi" admitted his involvement.
Michael Santiago said Yogi showed up at his place on the West Side on the night the blaze was set. He reeked of gasoline and asked to use the bathroom to change clothes, Santiago testified.
As the group drank and smoked weed in Santiago's living room, a news broadcast about the fire came on TV, Santiago said.
"Yogi said, 'Damn, that's what I did,'" Santiago testified.
The group went on partying, Santiago said. Later, when police asked him about Yogi and the fire, Santiago told them he didn't know anything.
But that was a lie, he said.
"I had people in the gang coming to me and saying consequence may happen," said Santiago, who didn't know Yogi very well personally but was connected to him as a member of the gang.
But Michael Monaco, a criminal defense attorney representing Djurdjlov, argued that Santiago as well as other witnesses called by the state cannot be trusted to tell the truth.
Monaco said that Santiago, who was arrested in connection with an unrelated shooting, was bullied by authorities to change his story.
Santiago denied that.
"Nobody put a gun to my head and told me what to say," Santiago asserted from the witness stand. "I just wanted to tell the truth. ... I help me out to get me out of there, as well."
Djurdjlov is the only one charged in the case. His alleged accomplice has never been charged or identified.
When police were investigating the fire in 2009, investigators suspected that another gang member, 17-year-old Franco Avila, murdered soon after the fire, may have been killed in retaliation by the people who had been targeted in the fire, according to reports by the Chicago Tribune.
The trial is set to continue Wednesday.