COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — A Cook County judge on Thursday found graffiti tagger Kristopher "Wicked" Klimala guilty of second-degree murder in the 2012 stabbing of fellow graffiti tagger Linear "Chip" Caballero.
Klimala earlier this week waived his right to a jury trial, agreeing to let Judge James Linn decide his fate in a bench trial.
Klimala, 22, faced charges of stabbing Caballero on Jan. 21, 2012. Klimala was crossing the street near Armitage and Western avenues when he saw Caballero and Caballero's girlfriend sitting in a car at a red light about 5:40 p.m.
Caballero allegedly rolled down his window and yelled slurs at Klimala, who yelled back and walked toward the car. According to testimony, Caballero opened his door and began to step outside when Klimala approached and stabbed him in the neck during a brief struggle.
Before Judge Linn made his ruling Thursday, he pointed out — while there may have been bad blood between Klimala and Caballero — the taggers didn't meet intentionally that night. There'd never been a plan to fight, he concluded.
The judge painted Caballero as violent, saying the tagger boasted about being a thug on social media, had a gang tattoo on his neck and the words "drop dead" inked across his knuckles. Earlier, Klimala's attorney claimed his client acted in self-defense because he was scared of Caballero.
Still, Linn said, "there are some contexts and circumstances that can't be ignored."
He found Klimala guilty of second-degree murder and set sentencing for May 21. Klimala could receive four to 20 years in prison, or up to four years probation with no jail time.
After the ruling, about 20 of Klamala's friends gathered around his mother in the hallway.
"One boy's dead, and one boy's gone," mom Cheryl Woodman told the group, sobbing. "I hope you learned a lesson. I don't want any other mother to go through something like this."
Caballero's relatives declined to comment. A small group had sat in the front row during the trial, audibly crying when prosecutors displayed bloody crime-scene photos.
"This whole thing never should've happened," Woodman later said. "It's stupid and pathetic, but that's the way this city is. I'm really sorry for the mother of the boy who lost his life."
During closing arguments Thursday, Klimala's attorney, Aaron Goldstein, claimed the altercation that led to Caballero's death lasted less than a minute. Goldstein said his client was walking to the train to see a friend when Caballero taunted him with "loud, aggressive language," allegedly saying, "You're not with your boys, now."
Goldstein said Klimala didn't pull his knife until he was about two feet from the car, and that he was scared of Caballero, who he claims had "a history of violence."
"Poor, poor Kristopher Klimala," Assistant State's Attorney Jennifer Hanus said in her response.
Hanus argued that Klimala made a lot of choices that night, and he could've easily walked away.
The prosecution during closing arguments played clips from a videotaped police interview with Klimala. In it, Klimala called Caballero "a little Puerto Rican b----" and admitted Caballero still had his seatbelt on during the stabbing.
"That is not somebody who's afraid of Linear Caballero," Assistant State's Attorney Kate McKay said.
Klimala was charged with first-degree murder in January 2012. His bail was set at $750,000, and he's been in Cook County Jail awaiting trial since. After Judge Linn found Klimala guilty of the lesser offense, he revoked Klimala's bond.
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