Belfast Telegraph

Heriberto Viramontes 'unleashed his violent rage' on Natasha McShane, Chicago trial hears

South Armagh girl met city's 'dark underbelly' when she was attacked under a viaduct, said prosecutor

By John Breslin

Natasha McShane, like many before her, was attracted to the shimmering glamour of Chicago - but instead she met its dark underbelly, a prosecutor in the trial of a man accused of attempted to murder her said yesterday

On the first day of the trial, the prosecution and defence delivered their opening arguments to a jury who will decide the fate of 34-year-old Heriberto Viramontes.

Viramontes is an innocent man, his lawyer David Dunne said. It was someone else who beat Northern Irishwoman McShane and her friend Stacy Jurich under a darkened viaduct on the night of April 23, 2010.

But in an impassioned opening statement, Margaret Ogarek gave an impassioned opening statement, describing how Natasha McShane, from Silverbridge in south Armagh, had come to Chicago to learn only to meet the dark underbelly of the city.

She and Stacy Jurich were "unsuspecting, unprepared, unsuspecting innocents" doing nothing but living their lives.

"Natasha McShane was one of those young minds who was attracted to the city of Chicago...she was a student from Ireland...she had come here to learn," Ogarek told the jury.

The young women were on a night celebrating their successes, drinking and dining in local bars in the Bucktown neighbourhood before deciding to walk back to Jurich's apartment.

"They had no way of being prepared, wholly unaware what this defendant was going to do to them.

Baseball bat

At the same time, Viramontes was out with his co-defendant Marcy Cruz touring Bucktown in a van.

"This defendant knew exactly what he was going to do at this point," Ogarek said, adding Viramontes wrapped his fingers around the baseball bat and left the van.

As the girls walked under a viaduct, Viramontes crept up on them, came from behind and "smashed that bat on to Stacy Jurich's skull," Ogarek said as she dramatically painted a picture of the night the two young woman were attacked.

The prosecutor argued it was Viramontes who, after leaving Jurich sprawling with one strike, then turned and "unleased his violent rage" on the much smaller Natasha McShane, who went to ground and never got up again.

He then turned and hit Jurich a second time, it is alleged. Viramontes ran, so did Jurich down a street, flagging down a car and finally finding help for her beaten friend.

At the scene, Jurich tried to describe the man who attacked her. This will be central to the trial, as defence lawyers claim she twice in the aftermath said the pair were assaulted by a black man. Viramontes is Hispanic.

The two women were rushed to hospital, where doctors performed life saving operations on them.

Fingerprint

Viramontes and Cruz went on a spending spree on Jurich's credit card, said Ogarek, who described the initial police investigation.

She said the prosecution can clearly link Viramontes to the credit card, that the "defendant's own ignorance" led police to Viramontes.

Viramontes' fingerprint was on a bag found in the back of the van and containing McShane's passport, among other items.

Defence lawyer, David Dunne, agreed that what happened on that night and the aftermath was a "massive tragedy."

But the jury's job, he said, was to "make sure the right conclusion is reached."

"The right conclusion in this case is not convict an innocent man of something he did not do, " said Dunne.

"On April 23, 2010, Heriberto Viramontes was not under that viaduct, Heriberto Viramontes did not take that bat and strike Miss Jurich, he did not take that bat and strike Miss McShane."

Dunne outlined the likely route the defence will take, claiming Jurich identified her attacked as a black male initially and that his client was never given the opportunity of taking part in any line up.

He also said any DNA evidence to be produced was circumstantial at best while the "star witnesss" Marcy Cruz will prove to be entirely unreliable.

Viramontes, 34, is accused of the attempted murders of Miss McShane and Miss Jurich along with 23 others charges ranging from misuse of a credit card to aggravated battery,

The charges stem from an incident early on April 23, 2010, when the two young women were attacked as they walked home from a night out in the Bucktown neighbourhood on Chicago's north side,

Coma

Miss McShane, a UCD masters graduate in the city on an exchange programme, was severely injured in the attack, in an induced coma for weeks.

She was flown home that summer but has never recovered, remains severely disabled, able to walk only a few steps and then with support and speak just a few words.

Her father, Liam, and mother, Sheila, along with two siblings are in Chicago for the trial in Court 604 of the Cook County Criminal Courts building.

The trial is expected to last until Friday week, the following Monday before going to the jury.

Viramontes has pleaded not guilty to all charges. His female co-defendant Marcy Cruz accepted a plea deal in return for a 22 year sentence and is expected to testify against Viramontes.

The trial continues.

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