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Men charged in murder of sheriff’s officer left shoe prints: prosecutors

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Updated: January 25, 2014 6:14AM

After Brandon Jackson leveled a long-barrel revolver at Cook County Sheriff’s Officer Cuauhtemoc Estrada and pulled the trigger Friday, Jackson and his accomplice fled to a home only 400 feet away, leaving shoe prints in the snow, prosecutors alleged in court Monday.

Jackson and Gage Thornton — both Bellwood men in their early 20s with petty criminal pasts — also were caught on surveillance video as Jackson allegedly shot Estrada, who died trying to protect his daughter and her boyfriend outside the Bellwood VFW hall, prosecutors said.

Inside a tiny courtroom in the basement of the Maywood courthouse Monday, Cook County Judge Ramon Ocasio ordered Jackson and Thornton held without bail. Both men are charged with first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery in Estrada’s death.

Before Ocasio made his decision, Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Maureen O’Brien outlined the details of a crime in which the alleged culprits left clue after clue for investigators to use against them.

On Friday evening, Estrada — a 50-year-old father and grandfather — was preparing for a party at the Bellwood VFW hall. His daughter and her boyfriend pulled up, and began unloading food for the party, O’Brien said. That’s when Jackson — armed with a .44 caliber handgun — and Thornton rushed the boyfriend, O’Brien said.

Jackson shoved the boyfriend and told him to “Give it up.” When the boyfriend refused to let Jackson go through his pockets, Jackson allegedly said: “I ain’t f------ with you. Get naked. Get naked.”

Estrada came out of the VFW, saw the commotion and asked what was happening.

The boyfriend told Estrada the two men were trying to rob him.

As Estrada pulled out his gun, Jackson allegedly shot Estrada once in the chest, killing him, authorities said.

Numerous clues helped investigators nab both men quickly.

Footprints in the snow led back to Jackson’s house in the 200 block of South 30th, prosecutors said. Poking out of the back pocket of Jackson’s jeans was a black ski mask, the same type of mask the gunman wore during the shooting, prosecutors said. In the same residence, investigators found a “distinctive” red-and-blue jacket that the accomplice can be seen wearing in the surveillance video, prosecutors said. Four cartridges were found to be missing from a box of .44 caliber cartridges also located in Jackson’s home, prosecutors said.

Thornton allegedly gave a video confession to police, saying he and Jackson committed the robbery, authorities said. Before police arrested the men, Jackson allegedly told a visitor to his home that he had taken part in a robbery and shot someone, authorities said.

As sheriff’s deputies led Jackson and Thornton back to the lockup after Monday’s hearing, an unidentified family member called out, “Brandon, we love you!”

Estrada’s wake is scheduled between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday at Russo’s Chapel, 4500 Roosevelt Road, in Hillside.

Funeral services are scheduled at 10 a.m. Saturday at Holy Name Cathedral.

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