A Kane County jury found a Chicago man not guilty of both murder and manslaughter Monday for the death of a homeless man killed by a fire extinguisher thrown from an Elgin building.
The jury of 11 women and one man deliberated for only about three hours before reaching their unanimous verdict.
Yancarlo Garcia, 24, of Chicago, appeared calm throughout the trial, but burst into tears as the verdict was read.
He could have been found guilty of first-degree murder, punishable by 20 to 60 years in prison; guilty of involuntary manslaughter, punishable by two to five years in prison or probation; or not guilty.
Garcia was charged in the 2011 death of 61-year-old homeless man Rick Gibbons, who had been sleeping in a downtown Elgin alley when he was struck by a fire extinguisher falling from the top floor of the adjoining five-story Fulton Street Parking Deck.
Garcia admitted on the witness stand last week that he and three companions, all drunk and high on marijuana, had tried to awaken and tease Gibbons by shouting down with feigned offers of sex, throwing trash toward him and trying to spray the fire extinguisher toward him. Garcia testified that he then threw the 15-pound extinguisher off the roof in a fit of frustration without intending to hit anyone.
The fire extinguisher struck Gibbons in the abdomen, crushing part of his left “hip bone” and rupturing a blood vessel in his abdomen. He died in a hospital about three weeks later.
Garcia insisted he was only trying to “mess with” and tease Gibbons. Garcia said he didn’t even realize anyone had been injured until a police officer picked him up for questioning almost a month later.
Kane County Public defender Kelli Childress and her team argued both that Garcia had not intended to hit Gibbons and Gibbons was so sick from years of alcoholism and living on the street that it wasn’t really the Aug. 11, 2011, injury that killed him.
As jurors left the courthouse Monday afternoon, they declined to answer questions except for one who said, “We followed the letter of the law.”
Garcia has been in the Kane County jail for almost two years while awaiting trial. And when he was arrested on the murder charge in September 2011, he was being held in the Cook County Jail after being arrested in Streamwood while driving a stolen car.
But after the verdict was announced, the judge said, “You will be released today.” Authorities said the Streamwood stolen-auto charge has been dropped by Cook County prosecutors.
Gibbons’ family, who attended each day of the six-day trial, took the verdict hard, with one of Gibbons’ two grown-up daughters running out of the courtroom in tears.
Gibbons’ former common-law wife, Colleen Kapaun, said later that “we’re all dumbfounded. There was no justice for their father’s death.”