SYCAMORE – Eric Peterson’s family sobbed and clutched his hands Wednesday as Judge Phillip Montgomery announced a jury had found Carl Russell guilty of attempting to murder Peterson.
Russell, 45, of Sandwich was emotionless – as he had been throughout the three-day trial in DeKalb County court. The trial included several witnesses’ testimony about how Peterson, 25, had gone to help friends move into a new home and wound up being shot in the face by Russell, who lived next door. Witnesses said Peterson had confronted Russell about inappropriate comments Russell had made to his girlfriend earlier.
The guilty verdict means Russell will face at least 31 years in prison and could face life in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 2.
“It truly was a miracle to be able to see Eric be able to come to court and testify on his own behalf,” DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato said. “Our office is very pleased with being able to get justice for what was done to Eric and to all of his family.”
Family members of Russell and Peterson were in the courtroom when the verdict was read, but declined comment.
The shooting occurred in the early morning hours of July 2, 2017, in the driveway of Russell’s home in the 1100 block of Lillian Lane. Peterson, the father of a 2-year-old daughter, was left paralyzed on his left side by a bullet that passed through his eye, out the back of his skull and was found at a house across the street, police said.
Earlier in the evening, witnesses testified that Russell had made inappropriate comments to Lorena Melendez, Peterson’s girlfriend and the mother of his daughter, an incident that escalated to the shooting.
Melendez testified that at one point, Russell said to Peterson, “You don’t know the nasty things I would do to her if you weren’t here.” Peterson laughed, but Melendez wasn’t happy, and the couple quarrelled.
Peterson later went over to Russell’s garage next door and was shot in the driveway. Witnesses said at first, they thought the sound of the gunshot was a firework.
Court records show Russell admitted to police that night he was the shooter and told officers that he had shot Peterson with a 9mm Glock 17 pistol.
Peterson testified on Tuesday, but his memory of the evening is incomplete.
Assistant State’s Attorney Scott Schwertley said during closing arguments that in a way, Russell had killed Peterson that night by leaving him permanently disabled. The man Peterson is today is not the same person he was before he was shot, he said.
“That Eric Peterson was killed by the defendant, shot through the right eye, blasting off part of his skull,” Schwertley said.
Russell did not take the stand in his own defense. His attorney, Brian Wright, said in his closing statement that he agreed with the prosecution that Russell had shot Peterson that night. But Wright argued Russell had reason to fear for his safety.
After the shooting, Russell told police he had been approached by 20 people in four cars, although no witnesses testified to that during the trial. Wright said, however, that there were four men there, and Russell was outnumbered.
“They wanted to do harm to Carl Russell to settle a score,” Wright said.
Jurors also heard from forensic experts called by the prosecution Wednesday.
Dexter McElhiney, a forensic scientist with the Illinois State Police Rockford Forensic Science Laboratory, testified that he found DNA matching Peterson’s on the barrel of Russel’s gun. DNA on the pistol grip matched Russell’s, he said.
A fired bullet found in a home across from Russell’s house was also tested. McElhiney said he was unable to find a matching DNA profile, but that Russell could be ruled out. He could not rule out Peterson.
When asked why it would be more difficult to get DNA from a bullet, McElhiney said the nature of the bullet made it harder for biological material to stick or for DNA to remain intact.
“A bullet travels very fast, so it’s difficult for material to stick to it, especially biological material,” he said. “It also gets very hot, and DNA gets destroyed a high temperatures.”
Other experts from the forensic lab testified that they were able to match an unfired live round found at the scene to Russell’s pistol.
Detectives from the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office testified to the evidence collected at the scene, including pieces of hair, skin and bone found on cars and Russell’s driveway.
• Daily Chronicle reporter Kelsey Rettke contributed to this article.