SANTA ANA, Calif. - A Southern California man faces a murder charge over a road rage shooting that killed 6-year-old Aiden Leos last month on the 55 Freeway, Orange County prosecutors announced. His girlfriend also faces charges in the killing.
It is believed little Aiden’s last words were "Mommy, my tummy hurts," his family told authorities.
Marcus Anthony Eriz, 24, and Wynne Lee, 23, were set to be arraigned Tuesday in the death of Aiden Leos, who was shot as his mother drove him to kindergarten on May 21 in Orange County, southeast of Los Angeles.
Both made initial court appearances via video conference Tuesday afternoon, but their arraignment was postponed until June 18. Both defendants were originally being held on $1 million bail, but Orange County Superior Court Judge Larry Yellin tentatively increased Eriz's bail to $2 million and dropped Lee's bail to $500,000.
The two defendants appeared virtually from the Orange County jail in Judge Larry Yellin's third-floor courtroom. It was technically awkward, the alleged shooter Marcus Eriz, 24, appeared in a small box at the bottom of the screen with the top of his head visible. The driver, his girlfriend, Wynne Lee, 23, did not appear via video at all for unexplained reasons.
Neither entered a plea, their public defender attorneys saying they haven't yet familiarised themselves with the case.
Neither suspect said anything in their virtual appearance other than answering ‘yes’ when the judge asked if they were OK with postponing their arraignment, the formal reading of charges and entering a plea.
Those bail amounts will remain in place until the June 18 arraignment, when attorneys are expected to present arguments on possible adjustments. Yellin noted that bail could potentially be reduced further for Lee, who was originally booked on suspicion of murder but was only charged with being an accessory.
According to the criminal complaint obtained by FOX 11, Eriz was charged with murder and shooting at an occupied motor vehicle, with sentencing enhancements for causing death to the victim. Lee was charged with accessory after the fact and a misdemeanor count of concealing a firearm in a vehicle.
Eriz faces a maximum of 40 years to life in prison if convicted on all counts. Lee faces a maximum exposure of three years in state prison plus one year in Orange County Jail if convicted on all counts.
Bail for Eriz and Lee were initially set for $1,000,000 each. Now, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said he recommended an increase of bail for Eriz to $2,000,000 during the arraignment.
Spitzer also added that those associated with the couple have been receiving threats on social media and said at this time, they do not believe anyone else was involved.
"I’m asking you to leave these people alone," he said. "They are not being looked at as criminals and we need to leave those people alone."
According to accounts from the mother and witnesses who stopped to help her, another car cut her off and she responded with a hand gesture and the car slipped in behind her and someone inside fired a shot through the rear of her car.
California Highway Patrol officials have said that the road rage violence stemmed from "a perceived unsafe lane change."
CHP Capt. Mike Harris said Monday that he spoke to Aiden’s mother about the arrests.
"I FaceTimed her," he said. "I let her know what had taken place. She was very emotional."
Eriz and Lee, who were living together as boyfriend and girlfriend, were arrested Sunday in Costa Mesa in Orange County. Authorities found a gun and car believed to have been used in the shooting but they weren’t at the arrest site, highway patrol Assistant Chief Don Goodbrand told reporters Monday.
Eriz and Lee were jailed for lack of $1 million bail each and it was not immediately clear whether they had attorneys to speak for them.
At least $500,000 in rewards had been offered from around the U.S. for information leading to an arrest in the case, authorities said.
Officials said they were able to make the arrests as the result of information provided through a tip and that the reward money was contingent upon the arrest and conviction of the suspects.
"We had hundreds of tips from the public, it was extremely helpful," Goodbrand said, declining to discuss more details about the reward money.
The car, which authorities described as a white Volkswagen Golf SportWagen, was relatively rare and that helped investigators who examined surveillance footage, Goodbrand said.
CHP said "intensive investigative steps" were taken to find the vehicle driven in the deadly shooting but officials could not disclose to reporters who the Volkswagen was registered to.
Lee was believed to be driving the car and Eriz was in the front seat and is suspected to be the gunman, said county District Attorney Todd Spitzer, who held up a photograph of Aiden at a news conference.
Spitzer said the little boy killed doing what so many do every day — ride on the freeways — gripped Orange County, population about 3 million.
"It’s because it could have happened to any one of us," he said.
"We’ve all gotten upset at other motorists, other motorists have been upset at us," Spitzer said. "I’ve thrown some gestures about myself. But it’s never come to a situation of violence and certainly not in my realm or your realm to the loss of a life."
Spitzer noted that boy was buried by the family only hours before he held his news conference.
"I do want to promise today, when Aiden was put below ground, that we will get justice for him," Spitzer said. "We have to promise him that."
FOX 11's Phil Shuman, Kelli Johnson, Mary Stringini and CNS contributed.
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