Homeless man charged in murder of off-duty Officer John Rivera gives opening statements
A homeless man charged in the murder of an off-duty Chicago police officer addressed Cook County jurors on the first day of his trial Tuesday, giving a rambling opening statement in which he admitted to his struggles with drugs and panhandling, but denying he intended to point out Officer John Rivera to the alleged gunman.
Battle, who is representing himself at trial, wore a rumpled suit borrowed from the Public Defender’s office as he made his 20-minute address to the jury, outlining in disjointed fashion his life story, from growing up in the Cabrini Green housing projects to the night he was arrested in River North after shots were fired into Rivera’s parked car, killing the 23-year-old officer and badly wounding one of his passengers.
Prosecutors told jurors that Battle erroneously told Menelik Jackson that Rivera had been part of a group of Hispanic men who had scuffled with Jackson earlier that night, and that Jackson was armed and looking for revenge.
Battle, gesturing to an unkempt stack of papers at the defense table, said he would prove that he intended to defuse the situation and warn Rivera and his friends before Jackson opened fire.
“I may not have a million dollars. I may not have a house… I may not be the perfect father,” Battle said. “I’m not a killer. I’m not the shooter… I’m not charged correctly.”
Jackson and another co-defendant Jaquan Washington are awaiting trial.
Battle argued Tuesday that he could not be charged with murder under the state’s accountability laws.
In his opening statements, Assistant State’s Attorney Andrew Varga said that Battle armed himself with a beer bottle and directed Jackson and Washington to the car where Rivera was parked after a night out with friends. Jackson fired two volleys of three shots — one into the driver’s side window where Rivera was seated — and the second into the seat behind Rivera’s, severely wounding his friend, a military reservist, Varga said.
“Jackson was angry and he had a gun. It’s a dangerous combination. It can be lethal combination,” Varga said. “He was angry and he had a gun, and he had no target. What was clear was that Jovan Battle provided that target.”
Varga said security camera footage showed Rivera and his friends walking past Battle, who was sitting in a doorway, as they walked on Clark Street. It was their only encounter with Battle before the shooting, Varga said.
An hour or so later, Jackson and Washington scuffled with a group of Hispanic men who had arrived at the flagship Rock ‘N’ Roll McDonald’s on Clark and Ontario.
Battle told jurors he panhandled near an expressway ramp by that intersection and an alley where he slept.
Frank Mejia, the security director of the McDonald’s, testified on cross examination that Battle had been barred from the restaurant, and another McDonald’s on Chicago Avenue.
“Why was I barred?” Battle asked.
“Coming in intoxicated. Loitering in the store, not purchasing anything,” said Mejia, whom prosecutors had called on the stand to introduce surveillance video of the brawl.
“Falling asleep?” Battle asked.
“Yes. Giving propositions on female customers, flirting with them and hitting on them,” Mejia replied.
Rivera’s mother, Catalina Rivera Ortiz, also testified, weeping as she recalled how police officers arrived at her door in the early morning hours of March 23, to tell that her son had been killed.
“I guess I was in denial,” she said, sobbing. “I thought they were going to tell me John was in an accident, or had been hurt at work.”
Battle did not cross-examine Rivera Ortiz.