Jury Deliberates Fate of Accused in Tragic 2021 Freeway Shooting of 6-Year-Old

SANTA ANA, Calif. — The trial of Marcus Anthony Eriz, a man accused of fatally shooting a 6-year-old boy on an Orange County freeway in 2021, concluded on Wednesday, and the jury is now deliberating the case. The central issue for the jury to consider is Eriz’s intent and state of mind when he fired his Glock 17 9mm at the car driven by Joanna Cloonan, resulting in the death of her son, Aiden Leos.

Eriz, now 26, and his defense team acknowledged that he discharged his weapon at the car. However, his defense attorney argued that it was a spontaneous act without any intention to kill the child. In his closing argument, defense attorney Randall Bethune emphasized that the age and status of the victim were irrelevant to Eriz’s mental state and maintained that Eriz should not be labeled as a murderer.

Prosecutors, on the other hand, are seeking conviction on multiple charges, including second-degree murder. They contend that regardless of Eriz’s intent to kill Aiden, his actions demonstrated implied malice that ultimately caused the child’s death. Prosecutor Dan Feldman argued that firing at someone over a gesture, from a moving car, exemplified a callous and cold-hearted disregard for human life.

During the trial, witnesses recounted the events leading up to the shooting. They testified that the incident occurred following an encounter between Cloonan and a white Volkswagen SportWagen on the 55 Freeway. The Volkswagen, driven by Eriz’s girlfriend, Wynne Lee, reportedly exhibited aggressive driving behavior, quickly pulling in front of Cloonan’s car, leading her to apply the brakes abruptly. In response, Cloonan gestured with her middle finger.

According to trial testimony, Eriz then reached into the backseat of the Volkswagen, retrieved his Glock, and fired at Cloonan’s vehicle as she drove away. When questioned about his actions, Eriz explained that he started carrying the firearm due to the perceived hostility on local freeways. However, he could not provide a clear motive for shooting at Cloonan’s car, aside from acknowledging his own lack of consideration and the absence of any rational thought process.

Cloonan, in her testimony, described hearing a loud noise like a large rock hitting her car and her son crying out in pain from the backseat. She immediately pulled over and attempted to save her son’s life while contacting emergency services. Ultimately, Aiden was rushed to Children’s Hospital Orange County, but he succumbed to his injuries.

The shooting prompted a 16-day manhunt that concluded with the arrest of Eriz and Lee. Eriz, who remains in custody without bail, pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and discharging a firearm at a vehicle. If convicted, he could face a sentence of 40 years to life in prison. Lee, charged as an accessory after the fact and for possessing a concealed firearm in a vehicle, is scheduled for a pretrial hearing in February.

As the jury deliberates, the outcome of the trial will determine the legal consequences for Eriz, who could face a lengthy prison sentence if found guilty of the charges. The case serves as a tragic reminder of the devastating consequences that can arise from conflicts on the road and highlights the importance of addressing road rage incidents to ensure public safety.