A Joliet man facing murder and arson charges agreed to plead guilty to lesser crimes in exchange for testifying against a co-defendant he said fired a flare gun into a house, starting a deadly blaze in June 2017.
On Wednesday, Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Chris Koch said an agreement was reached in the case against Eric J. Raya, 20, who along with Manuel Escamilla, 20, and Andy Cerros, 19, were charged with setting a residence at 16 N. Center St. on fire with a flare gun.
The blaze killed Regina Rogers, 28, her baby, Royalty Rogers, and Jacquetta Rogers, 29.
Raya, Escamilla and Cerros faced charges of murder, attempted murder, aggravated arson, residential arson and arson.
Koch told Will County Judge Dan Kennedy that those charges against Raya would be dropped in exchange for his guilty plea in an unrelated aggravated battery case, as well as to obstruction of justice.
The obstruction of justice charge stemmed from Raya allowing Escamilla to drive off in Raya’s 2004 Chrysler Pacifica with the flare gun police said was used to cause the fire.
Raya also testified about the circumstances of the deadly fire.
Raya said he let Escamilla drive his car and that he was a passenger when the flare gun was fired into the house. Raya also testified that his cousin Mark Perez, Escamilla, Cerros, Cerros’ brother Anthony Cerros and a man named Braulio Cervantes were along for the ride.
He testified he heard “two pops” before seeing Cerros holding an orange flare gun.
Raya testified that he heard Cerros say, “I think I got it through the window,” and Escamilla mention it was “Rocky’s” house. Rocky is the nickname of Rakeem Venson, who prosecutors said was the target of the attack because of an ongoing gang feud between Escamilla and Venson.
Venson managed to escape the fire.
Raya agreed to plead guilty to aggravated battery in an unrelated incident where he struck a man in the parking lot of the New Lenox Walmart immediately after the fire.
Perez told police that after the fire, the men fled to the New Lenox Walmart and got into a fight in the parking lot, according to court records.
Kennedy asked Raya if he had anything to say before his sentencing.
“No, your honor,” Raya said.
Kennedy sentenced Raya to five years in prison for the aggravated battery. He only has to serve half that time, state’s attorney spokeswoman Carole Cheney said.
Raya also was credited for serving about two years and two months in jail, and credited 90 days for obtaining his GED.
Raya was sentenced to 30 months of probation for obstruction of justice.
Cheney failed to respond to numerous requests for comment on why the murder and arson charges were dismissed.
After the hearing, Raya’s attorney, Jeff Tomczak, said he was ready to go to trial in the murder case, which was scheduled for Monday. He said the evidence would show Raya was not responsible for the deaths, claiming he was asleep in the car and only woke when the flare gun was fired.
Raya’s mother, Mady Perez, said she was happy her son would be coming home.
“But it’s sad that he had to take this deal that they offered him because he’s in fear of being sent to prison for something he had nothing to do with,” Perez said.
Perez claimed her son was not responsible for the battery at the Walmart parking lot and blamed it on her nephew.