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home : news : local   May 26, 2016

5/22/2013 11:56:00 PM
Turncoat murder suspect describes robbery, fatal beating

Tom Collins
NewsTribune Senior Reporter

OTTAWA — Joshua Ward took the stand Wednesday and said he, his brother and their friends had tucked into a bag of just-delivered cocaine and quickly deemed it poor quality.
The first one to speak up was Luis Lomeli, who is on trial this week for allegedly killing the drug dealer who’d brought them the substandard cocaine: Darrio Hunter.
“Luis was (irritated) because it was garbage cocaine,” Ward testified. “Then my brother (Jason Ward) said, ‘Let’s rob the guy.’”
And that, Joshua Ward said, was why Darrio Hunter was summoned back to the west-side Ottawa residence on May 2, 2011. After selling them a low-grade gram of cocaine, the party of five quickly decided Hunter deserved to be robbed of whatever drugs and cash he might be carrying when he made his follow-up delivery.
“Were you up for robbing the guy?” asked prosecutor Greg Sticka.
“I was down for it,” Ward answered.
“Meaning you were willing to do it?” Sticka pressed.
Joshua Ward said Hunter was eventually persuaded to return. While Hunter stood in the kitchen, he said, Luis and Jason emerged from a bedroom and immediately assaulted Hunter, beating him with their fists. Hunter produced a knife and swung it once at Lomeli, but was soon overpowered and knocked off his feet.
Once Hunter was down, Ward testified, Lomeli and Jason continued to punch and kick him. Lomeli took Hunter’s knife and made long cuts to Hunter’s face — “I cut him like Scarface,” Lomeli said, or so Ward claims — and stomped on his head.
“He jumped in the air, jumped on his face with both feet,” Ward testified.
Darrio Hunter did, in fact, die from multiple traumas to the head and from a diminished blood supply to his vital organs. A pathologist testified Wednesday that the various lacerations to Hunter’s face caused heavy bleeding that left his kidneys, liver and brain oxygen-starved.
Earlier Wednesday, Janelle DeBernardi, the woman who admitted driving Hunter to both deliveries, testified she was summoned inside the house and found Hunter beaten, cut and bloodied. Hunter refused medical treatment and specifically instructed DeBernardi to not call for an ambulance.
“Just give me a minute,” Hunter said. “Just give me a minute.”
But Hunter’s condition worsened as DeBernardi tried to get the much larger Hunter to their car. By the time EMTs arrived, Hunter was mumbling incoherently and soon quit breathing.
While the medical evidence jibes with Joshua Ward’s testimony, his credibility is disputed because of his lengthy criminal history and because of the deal he cut with prosecutors.
Though Joshua Ward currently is charged with first-degree murder, prosecutors will drop the murder charge and present a negotiated plea for armed robbery. Ward said he would get the maximum 30 years but would be eligible for day-for-day good time and, with time already served, be out of prison when he is about 45 years old.
To hear Joshua Ward tell it, he was mostly a bystander during the beating that killed Hunter — though he was a more active participant in the crime spree that led up to it.
Ward testified that earlier in the day he and his compatriots planned a cookout in Ottawa but made a side trip to Aurora for cash and cocaine. When Ward was unable to locate a former girlfriend to spot him some money, the group hatched a quick robbery scheme in which Lomeli’s girlfriend, Sylvia Enriquez, was dispatched into a bar to lure an unsuspecting male outside and into their clutches.
“Any guy who looked like he had money,” Ward said.
The first such victim was robbed of $300 and then stabbed “at least 10 times” by Jason Ward. From there, it was off to Montgomery to confront a man who owed Enriquez money; but that man was able to escape his would-be assailants without injury. Hunter would be victim No. 3.
Joshua Ward answered all questions clearly and succinctly — until Lomeli’s attorneys had their turn.
Under cross-examination, Ward acknowledged that he lied to police in his initial statements and began angling for a deal soon after he was tailed and picked up by police in La Salle County.
There also were discrepancies between his initial statements and his Wednesday testimony, not least of which was when Hunter pulled the knife.
On the stand Wednesday, Ward said brother Jason marched up to Hunter, punched him and demanded of him, “Give me all your s—-.’” It was then, Joshua said, that Hunter pulled the knife.
But when first queried by police, Joshua Ward said Hunter had already brandished his knife before any blows were exchanged.
That’s a key point for Lomeli’s attorneys, who acknowledged there had been a drug deal and a fight but insisted there was no robbery. Hunter pulling the knife first could advance that proposition.
Joshua Ward showed absolutely no remorse over Hunter’s death and casually mentioned that when he and the assailants fled the house, he paused at the refrigerator to grab a beer for the road.
“After all that, I needed a beer.”

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or

Related Stories:
• Ex-girlfriend: Defendant threatened victim
• State: Lomeli inflicted fatal knife wound

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