Man Gets 40 to Life for Fatally Shooting 6-Year-Boy on Costa Mesa Freeway

Man Gets 40 to Life for Fatally Shooting 6-Year-Boy on Costa Mesa Freeway

The 55 Freeway, seen from Santa Ana, Calif., on Jan. 11, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

City News Service

City News Service

4/15/2024

Updated: 4/15/2024

SANTA ANA, Calif.—A man who opened fire at a car during a road-rage confrontation on the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway, killing a 6-year-old boy who was strapped in a child seat as his mother drove him to kindergarten in Yorba Linda, was sentenced April 12 to 40 years to life in prison.
Marcus Anthony Eriz, 26, of Costa Mesa, was convicted in January of second-degree murder and firing at an occupied vehicle for the deadly May 21, 2021, shooting on the freeway that killed Aiden Leos. Jurors also found true allegations of personal use of a handgun.
Co-defendant Wynne Lee, 26, Mr. Eriz’s girlfriend, is awaiting trial for being an accessory after the fact. Mr. Eriz was a passenger in the car driven by Ms. Lee when the shooting occurred.
Aiden’s mother, Joanna Cloonan, was driving her Chevrolet Sonic with the child strapped into a child seat in the back seat of the vehicle, taking the boy to kindergarten in Yorba Linda. At about 8 a.m., she and her son were cut off by the defendants in a Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen with Ms. Lee behind the wheel of the car. Ms. Lee made a peace sign, which Ms. Cloonan took as sarcastic, and a few miles later as she was merging over to the Riverside (91) Freeway east, she passed the defendants and gave them a middle finger, Senior Deputy District Attorney Dan Feldman said during opening statements of the trial.
The defendants then positioned their car behind Ms. Cloonan’s, and Mr. Eriz fired a shot from a 9mm Glock that struck the Chevrolet, went into the passenger compartment and struck the boy.
Ms. Cloonan, who was northbound on the freeway, heard a loud bang that sounded like a rock striking her vehicle followed by her son’s cry, Feldman said. She immediately pulled over, the prosecutor added.
Her son, who had turned 6 a week and a half before the shooting, was bleeding from a bullet that pierced his liver, lungs and his heart before coming out of his abdomen, Feldman said. The boy died in her arms.
Ms. Lee and Mr. Eriz, who lived together in a Costa Mesa apartment, were driving to their workplace at Gerber Glass, a collision repair shop, Feldman said. Mr. Eriz kept his loaded 9 mm gun in the car.
During the sentencing hearing, Mr. Eriz issued an emotional apology to Ms. Cloonan and her family, referring to Aiden as “a son, a little brother and a friend to others,” as well as “truly one of God’s little angels.”
“I am so sorry for ever hurting him, and the pain he went through because of me,” Mr. Eriz said.
He later added, “Ms. Cloonan, I am truly sorry.”
Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard King acknowledged Mr. Eriz’s apology and said he considered the defendant’s “childhood trauma” as well as his age at the time of the shooting, but he said he couldn’t see how any of that would change his mind about exercising his discretion to not add 25 years to life to his sentence for using the gun in the attack, as the defense had requested.
“I just cannot draw a connection between childhood trauma ... as well as his age,” Judge King said.
The judge noted Mr. Eriz “did not commit any crimes till this particular day.”
The incident that angered the drivers was what we see every day, Judge King said.
But in this case, “We have a 6-year-old in the back seat, the most vulnerable victim you can imagine being driven to kindergarten by his mom,” Judge King said.
“That caused you ... in that particular moment you have the power—and that power was the handgun—and whether it was to impress your girlfriend or release your anger, you fired,” Judge King said. “And that boy died, and when everything is said and done, that’s what happened.”
Judge King said there was “no legal justification being provoked other than, ‘I’m going to get back at her.”’
As for the mother’s suffering, Judge King said, “I don’t think the English language can even attempt to describe what Aiden’s mother went through after he says ‘ouch.’ ... She pulls over and her little boy dies in her arms. I don’t think anyone can comprehend what the rest of her life is going to be like. And the court puts a great weight on that.”
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer recalled after the hearing Friday how he said during a news conference while authorities were looking for the killer that he wanted the shooter to turn himself in or else he would bring the full force of the law on him.
“He didn’t, and we had to find him and catch him,” Mr. Spitzer said.
Mr. Spitzer railed against the defense attorney and state legislators for laws that give judges discretion to strike gun-use enhancements in some cases for defendants 25 and younger. Mr. Spitzer claimed that gang members are taking advantage of the law to “give the gun to a kid,” who will get a lesser sentence.
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