COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — One of the question facing jurors in the case of an alleged revenge plot gone wrong is which gang members can be trusted to tell the truth.
The Spanish Cobras and the Spanish Gangster Disciples — "SGDs" for short — were at war in Albany Park in 2009 when a pregnant woman and her 7-year-old daughter became the unintended targets of arson at the hands of a vengeful gang member, prosecutors have alleged.
Now, five years later, a reputed Spanish Cobra who goes by the name "Yogi," is waiting to learn if a jury will find him guilty in the double-murder trial.
Closing statements in the case wrapped up Tuesday, and jurors continued to deliberate into the evening.
Jovan Djurdjlov was gunning for rival members of the SGDs — he believed they had thrown a brick through the window of his home — when he set a blaze at a building on Jan. 31, 2009, Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Thomas Darman said during closing statements earlier Tuesday.
But the flames never found their target, he said. Instead, the fire ripped through the three-flat, killing Rosanna Ocampo, 23, and 7-year-old Itzel Fernandez, he said.
"Yogi wasn't looking to kill that 7-year-old or that 23-year-old pregnant woman, but the way the law shakes out, it doesn't matter," Darman said, asking jurors to find the defendant guilty of murder.
But criminal defense attorney Michael Monaco, quoting Author Oscar Wilde in dramatic fashion, cautioned the jury.
"The truth is never pure and rarely simple," he said. This case "is not as simple as the state would have you believe."
Over the course of the week-long trial, jurors have heard a story of gang warfare on the Northwest Side.
Prosecutors called witnesses affiliated with the gang to testify against Djurdjlov, who was 18 at the time of the fire. But all of them have a history of lying or some personal interest in pleasing the state's attorney's office, defense attorneys contend.
Attorneys representing Djurdjlov also argue that a videotaped police interrogation of him is proof that cops bullied him in to saying things that weren't true.
Some of the reputed Spanish Cobras allegedly involved in the 2009 gang fight offered testimony pointing to Djurdjlov as the culprit while others from the same gang offered alibis.
Spanish Cobra member Michael Santiago testified that "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.
But when police intially asked Santiago about the fire, he denied knowledge of it, he admitted. That was a lie, he testifed.
"I had people in the gang coming to me and saying consequence may happen," said Santiago.
Monaco argued that Santiago as well as other witnesses called by the state cannot be trusted to tell the truth.
He said that Santiago, who was arrested in connection with an unrelated shooting, was bullied by authorities to change his story. He has also called other gang member witnesses who refuted Santiago's account of events.