California man found guilty of murder in 2021 shooting of 6-year-old on busy freeway

California man found guilty of murder in 2021 shooting of 6-year-old on busy freeway


Thao Nguyen
 USA TODAY

A Southern California man was found guilty of second-degree murder Thursday in the 2021 road rage shooting that killed 6-year-old Aiden Leos.

A jury convicted Marcus Anthony Eriz, 26, of Costa Mesa, California, of second-degree murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle, and two felony enhancements of the personal discharge of a firearm causing great bodily injury and death. Eriz faces 40 years to life in state prison.

“The short, happy life of Aiden Leos is a life interrupted, abruptly ended by a bullet that pierced Aiden’s heart. The bullet not only killed a little 6-year-old boy; it ripped a hole in the heart of all of Orange County,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement Thursday. “While we will never know what Aiden would have become, we know that the pursuit of justice did not end until his killer was captured and this child murderer was prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

On May 21, 2021, Aiden was sitting in the backseat of his mother’s car as she drove him to kindergarten when another driver shot and killed him during morning rush hour, authorities said at the time. Aiden was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

The incident fueled nationwide outrage, including sparking an “intense manhunt for the shooter that spanned Southern California,” a public plea for tips and half a million dollars in reward money, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

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A couple, identified as Eriz and Wynne Lee, was arrested about two weeks later. Eriz’s sentencing trial is set for April 12 and Lee, 26, of Costa Mesa, is awaiting trial on the charges filed against her, the district attorney’s office said.

Aiden Leos case: $500K reward in alleged road rage shooting in California. Will it be paid?

What happened on May 21?

The fatal shooting occurred just after 8 a.m. on State Route 55 in the city of Orange as Aiden’s mother, Joanna Cloonan, drove her son to kindergarten.

Cloonan testified at trial that she had flipped the driver of a Volkswagen Sportswagen off after the driver cut her off, according to the district attorney’s office. The driver then behind her and someone fired into Cloonan’s vehicle.

“After driving away, (Cloonan) said she heard a large noise and heard her son say, ‘ow,’ before pulling over the side of the freeway and pulling Aiden out of his car seat and calling 911,” the district attorney’s office said.

Aiden, who was sitting in the back seat, was shot in the abdomen and pronounced dead at the hospital. The freeway was shut down for hours after the incident as investigators searched for evidence.

Couple arrested weeks later

Eriz and Lee were arrested by the California Highway Patrol on June 6, 2021. At the time of their arrest, CHP said authorities recovered the weapon used in the shooting and the Volkswagen Sportswagen the suspects were riding in.

Tips from the community had helped authorities track down possible suspects, according to the CHP. Investigators identified the couple after getting a tip and enhancing an image of the vehicle’s license plate.

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Investigators also discovered that the couple had commuted to work in the Inland Empire region of Southern California and were in the area of the shooting when it happened.

Lee was charged with being an accessory after the fact and illegally carrying a concealed firearm in a vehicle, according to the district attorney’s office. She faces up to three years in state prison and one year in county jail.

Lee remains out of custody on GPS monitoring after posting a $100,000 bond in 2021, the district attorney’s office said.

‘My heart melted every time he laughed’ Mother eulogizes 6-year-old boy killed in suspected road rage shooting

Contributing: Ryan W. Miller and Steven Vargas, USA TODAY

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