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Local News

Attorney requests special prosecutor in Joliet flare gun murder case

An attorney for a Joliet man charged with triple murder claimed prosecutors engaged in “legal whitewashing” of a defendant who became a witness in the case, court records show.

Chuck Bretz, attorney for Manuel Escamilla, 21, filed a motion for a special prosecutor after arguing prosecutors failed to take action against Eric Raya, 21, who was on parole for an aggravated battery conviction and probation for obstruction of justice when he was charged with armed robbery in November.

Raya, Escamilla and Andy Cerros, 20, were arrested on murder and arson charges in connection with a 2017 house fire that killed Regina Rogers, 28, her baby, Royalty Rogers, and Jacquetta Rogers, 29.

On Aug. 14, Raya pleaded guilty to aggravated battery in an unrelated incident and obstruction of justice in exchange for his testimony against Escamilla and Cerros. Prosecutors dropped the murder and arson charges as part of the deal.

Raya testified he was in a car driven by Escamilla and saw Cerros holding a flare gun that police said was used to cause the house fire.

Bretz’s motion argued that prosecutors failed to enforce the terms of their agreement with Raya when he was arrested by Summit police on a charge of armed robbery. His motion claimed prosecutors’ inaction toward their witness gives the appearance of unfair prosecution.

“Any experienced criminal practitioner who looks at this situation will see it for exactly what it is – sweeping these problems under the rug so the state can protect its case. However, this legal whitewashing cannot be proven to a jury as it relates to impeaching Raya or attacking the integrity of the state's case," Bretz’s motion said.

Bretz’s motion requested a special prosecutor to remove the appearance of impropriety and conflict of interest in Escamilla’s case.

Cerros' attorney Blake Stone said he's still considering whether he will join in Bretz's motion.

Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Chris Koch objected to the request in his own motion by arguing the appearance of an impropriety is no longer a basis for a special prosecutor appointment.

Koch’s motion said Bretz has not alleged the prosecutors are “physically unable to perform” due to sickness, absence or similar circumstances beyond their control, as required under state statute. He also argued there's no actual conflict of interest.

"The state's attorney is clearly not a party in the case. Nor can defendant Escamilla identify anything even resembling the state's attorney's personal interest in the case," the motion said.

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