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Men held without bail in fatal shooting of officer
Footprints lead police to suspects in off-duty officer's murder

Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Chicago Tribune
by Ellen Jean Hirst

Police said they didn't have to go far to find the two men who wound up being charged with gunning down a Cook County sheriff's investigator outside a holiday party at a west suburban VFW hall: Officers followed shoe prints in the snow to a home just 400 feet away, prosecutors said in court Monday.

Inside were Brandon Jackson and Gage Thornton, both 22, according to authorities. Prosecutors said the men fled to Jackson's Bellwood home after an attempted robbery of the shooting victim's daughter and her boyfriend went awry.

Found in the home were items of clothing, including a black ski mask, seen in surveillance video of the shooting Friday, authorities said. Also recovered was a box filled with ammunition for the .44-caliber handgun prosecutors say was used to kill Sheriff's Officer Cuauhtemoc Estrada, 50, according to court documents.

Jackson and Thornton, charged with first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery, were ordered held without bail Monday by Circuit Judge Ramon Ocasio. Both men have criminal records. Jackson's includes three residential burglary convictions, the most recent in 2009. Thornton was convicted of theft in 2010 in Wisconsin.

Prosecutors said Thornton gave a videotaped confession, telling investigators that he and Jackson went to the parking lot of a VFW hall at 2817 St. Charles Road in Bellwood about 7:30 p.m. Friday to rob someone.

Jackson wore a ski mask and was carrying a gun as the men put their plan into action, prosecutors said.

At the VFW hall that night, Estrada was hosting a Christmas party for family and friends. His daughter, Christina Estrada, and her boyfriend, Rigoberto Anaya, were taking a tray of food out of their car when Thornton and Jackson approached, prosecutors said.

"Give it up, give it up," Jackson yelled, holding the gun at his side, prosecutors said.

Jackson tried to go through Anaya's pockets, but Anaya resisted. "I ain't (expletive deleted) with you. Get naked, get naked," Jackson yelled, according to court documents.

At that point, Officer Estrada and his son walked out of the VFW and Estrada said, "What's going on?"

"This guy's trying to rob me," Anaya yelled, according to court documents.

Officer Estrada pulled out his gun "to protect his daughter and her boyfriend," and Jackson shot him once in the chest, prosecutors said.

Jackson and Thornton then ran back to Jackson's home, where Jackson called a friend and told him what he'd done, according to prosecutors. A few hours later, police knocked on the door of the home and were let in, prosecutors said. The black ski mask was hanging out of Jackson's back pocket, prosecutors said.

No gun was recovered.

At a news conference after the hearing, State's Attorney Anita Alvarez talked about how the officer's family has been devastated.

"Here we are on the eve of Christmas and the Estrada family now is unfortunately planning a funeral as opposed to planning to spend the holidays together," Alvarez said. "The officer was having a family party and he did lose his life in front of his own daughter, and when you think about it, he lost his life doing what he did best and that was protecting people."

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