A suburban murder trial came to a screeching halt last summer, when prosecutors hit a wall due to the "code of silence." Prosecutors were arguing that Antonio Aguilar Jr. and Robert Meza shot into a window in Addison, Ill., hoping to hit a member of a rival gang. Instead, they allegedly killed 22-year-old Lorenzo Salazar-Cortez, a bystander with no gang ties.
Meza had already been sentenced to 45 years in prison for his role in the shootings. But when prosecutors called him to the stand to testify about Aguilar's involvement, he said nothing.
"I apologize, sir, but I cannot answer any questions," Meza reportedly said to Judge George Bakalis, despite being warned that he was in contempt of court.
The trial was suspended last June, and last week, Aguilar was acquitted. Judge Bakalis pointed specifically to Meza's failure to testify in eviscerating the prosecution's case.
"The court cannot decide this case on a gut feeling," the judge said, according to the Daily Herald newspaper. "It is no help to speculate the defendant may have killed the victim."
But Meza may now pay the price for adhering to the code of silence.
He pleaded guilty Thursday to "serious direct criminal contempt," which has no maximum sentence; the only requirement is that the sentence be "reasonable."
The judge in the contempt case, Kathryn Creswell, said she will abide by a plea agreement Meza made with prosecutors that he face no more than ten years in prison for pleading guilty to the contempt charge, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Those years will be tacked on to his 45-year sentence, which he will have to serve 100 percent of. Day-for-day credits will allow him to serve one-half of the contempt sentence.