By Maria Maxham
On Sept. 11, in announcing the verdict in an attempted murder case, a Cook County judge came down hard on the Forest Park Police Department, saying that "the worst part about the case" was the police response to the events that night.
"If the police did what they should have done, we wouldn't be here," said Judge Geary W. Kull before acquitting 24-year-old Bridgeview resident Francisco Munoz of all charges in the shooting of a Chicago man in a Madison Street parking lot in October of 2017.
Kull said that the police should have stayed at the scene longer to ensure that Munoz and the shooting victim, who were kicked out of a local bar for fighting, went their separate ways, especially knowing that one of those involved held a concealed carry license.
Forest Park Chief of Police Tom Aftanas could not comment immediately.
"Because of a hothead [friend of the victim] and the state of Illinois giving a license to someone without the qualifications or character to have a license, a young man gets shot four times," Kull said.
The victim survived the shooting, but underwent several surgeries and weeks of rehab, according to his mother, who was present at the Sept. 11 hearing at the Maybrook courthouse in Maywood.
Kull added that a concealed-carry license "for some reason makes some people feel they have the right to [use a gun] without regard for consequences." Munoz, held a concealed-carry license at the time of the shooting.
The shooting took place on Oct. 21, 2017 at about 2:15 a.m. in the Constitution Court parking lot in the 7400 block of Madison Street.
"This is one of the most difficult cases I've had to decide," said Kull.
The hardest part, he said, was determining who the aggressor was at any moment of time during the series of events that night, and whether one or both parties were acting in self-defense.
He said that "self-defense is a tricky issue," because it can be transferred to a third party. In other words, self-defense can include protecting another person. In this case, the judge thought that Munoz may have been trying to protect his half-brother when a friend of the victim drove his car toward him.
"I have very little respect for him," said Kull of Munoz during the hearing. But just before handing down the not-guilty verdict and acquitting Munoz of all charges, he stated, "I cannot say without a reasonable doubt that he did not act in self-defense."
"All he wanted to do was go home," said Kull of the victim, who was not present at the hearing. "All he wanted to do was have a good time."
Prior to the hearing, the victim's mother said that her son has undergone six surgeries for injuries related to being shot four times and had to learn how to walk again in rehab following the shooting.
That night "changed his life," and although he's doing well now, the impact has been significant. He turned 24 the day after the hearing.
Munoz' friends and family applauded when Kull announced the not-guilty verdict, at which point Kull yelled at them to stop.
"This is not a party," he said. "It's certainly not a party for a young man who was shot four times."
"We are happy as can be about the verdict," said Todd McKutcheon, one of the attorneys defending Munoz.
McKutcheon called some of Kull's comments "inappropriate" and said it's rare to hear a judge speak so poorly about a defendant's character in court. He gave the judge credit, though, for "making the right decision" even though obviously conflicted.
"I understand the judge's conflict and the difficulty in making a decision in a case like this," said Dave McDermott, another attorney defending Munoz. "Cook County is too anti-gun. And other people should have been charged in this case."
In a situation where someone pulls out a gun, he said, that person is automatically blamed, even if they were justified in doing so. He said Kull is a "very intelligent judge," but he didn't agree with all his comments.
"When we win cases like this, it puts the message out there that people have the right to defend themselves," said McDermott.
The verdict, however, stunned the victim's mother.
"I'm shocked," said the victim's mom regarding the verdict. "My sons and I are disappointed. We were confident the judge would find Munoz guilty."