Gunman found guilty of killing off-duty Chicago officer

Prosecutors say the man ran into a convenience store with a gun and shot the LEO, who was working as a security guard

Megan Crepeau
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — A reputed gang member was convicted overnight in the 2011 slaying of off-duty Chicago police Officer Clifton Lewis, according to Cook County prosecutors.

Prosecutors said Alexander Villa ran into a West Side convenience store with a Tec-9-style gun slung around his neck and shot Lewis, who was working as a security guard.

Officer Clifton Lewis
Officer Clifton Lewis (Photo/ Chicago Police Department)

A jury found Villa, 31, guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated battery and armed robbery, said Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

Testimony and arguments in the four-day trial often stretched into the late evening at the Leighton Criminal Court Building; jurors began deliberating Villa’s fate just before 8 p.m. Thursday.

Villa is the second of three men to reach trial in the murder of the eight-year police veteran who just days before had become engaged to his longtime girlfriend.

Judge James Linn’s courtroom was packed throughout the day Thursday with uniformed Chicago police officers, who lined the walls when there was no more room on the crowded benches.

With scant physical evidence linking the crime to Villa, who was not charged until nearly two years after the murder, prosecutors this week played graphic video of the robbery and called witnesses who said they heard Villa admit to the shooting — though they did not come forward until long after Lewis was killed.

Villa, a reputed Spanish Cobras gang member, knew Lewis was a police officer as soon as he walked into the store and pulled open his jacket to reveal the weapon, Assistant State’s Attorney Andrew Varga said in closing arguments Thursday.

“When that door opened and he did that Superman thing of exposing the gun, Cliff Lewis yelled, ‘Police!’” Varga said.

Melvin DeYoung told grand jurors in 2012 that the night Lewis was killed he was in a car with Villa, the accused second gunman, Tyrone Clay, and getaway driver Edgardo Colon. While DeYoung said at trial this week that authorities fed him his story, he told the grand jury that Villa jumped in the car after the shooting, stashed his guns and said, “Yeah, we got a little something.”

Defense attorney Michael Clancy said Villa was wrongly accused by police under pressure to solve the murder of one of their comrades, and that prosecutors were playing on jurors’ emotions.

In particular, he said, the witnesses who testified they heard Villa confess to the shooting can’t be trusted.

Destiny Rodriguez told jurors this week she overheard Villa bragging to her then-boyfriend about the shooting just hours after Lewis was killed — and doing it with a smile on his face.

On Thursday, Ruben Rodriguez — who is not related to Destiny — testified that a few months after the shooting, he heard another Spanish Cobra berating Villa for getting away with only $700 and shooting a cop to boot. “I had to pop somebody,” Villa allegedly said in response.

Neither witness came forward until long after the shooting. To cast doubt on Ruben Rodriguez’s credibility, Clancy pointed out that he later told jurors in a separate case that the other Spanish Cobra kidnapped and assaulted him after the conversation with Villa — a far-fetched tale he apparently never gave Chicago police, Clancy said. Rodriguez currently is serving time in Michigan for home invasion and armed robbery.

“I don’t care if they bring in 40 more people,” Clancy said. “… All of that means nothing when you have the undisputed evidence they can’t get away from.”

The security footage from the store does not clearly show Villa’s tattoos, Clancy said, and he noted that records show Villa sent a text to his sometime girlfriend at the time the two gunman are first shown walking up to the convenience store.

But prosecutors argued that the footage, while not particularly sharp, does depict Villa’s large neck tattoo, and they said Villa easily could have sent a quick text before he stepped into view of the security cameras.

Prosecutors had hoped to elicit testimony from the getaway driver and Villa’s alleged fellow gunman — both of whom gave statements to Chicago police after the slaying.

But Edgardo Colon, who was convicted in 2017 of being the getaway driver, said this week he would not answer questions despite a grant of immunity. Judge James Linn found him in contempt of court and said that as a penalty he could sentence Colon to as much as 30 years on top of the 84 years he is already serving.

The man accused of being the second gunman, Tyrone Clay, is awaiting trial before Judge Erica Reddick, who this year said Clay’s statement to detectives could not be used against him. Reddick found that Clay did not knowingly waive his constitutional rights before speaking with police about the shooting, and prosecutors did not call him to the stand in Villa’s case.

Villa is due back in court April 9.


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