Cook County judge, William Gamboney, found former Chicago police officer, Lowell Houser guilty of second-degree murder recently. Houser requested a bench trial as some police officers are wont to do when facing serious charges.
The trial stemmed from a 2017 off-duty shooting of Jose Nieves. Houser has been under house arrest since being charged with first-degree murder.
The judge ruled that Nieves may have been aggressive toward Houser, but the man was unarmed at the time of the shooting. He therefore decided that Houser’s actions were unreasonable and that the shooting was unjustified.
Neighbors who had seen the two men quarreling noted that Nieves had pulled off his jacket on the chilly January day. That indicated to the judge that Nieves was looking for a fight, just not a gunfight, and that Houser had no cause to open fire on the man.
Family of Nieves expressed satisfaction over the verdict even though they did not get a conviction for first-degree murder. Illinois does not have a voluntary manslaughter or “crime of passion” defense. Voluntary manslaughter can only be charged in cases where an unborn infant is killed.
Analyzing the Sentence
Houser faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for the slaying which is considerably less than he would have faced had he been convicted of first-degree murder. Gamboney believed that Houser believed that he was in danger at the time of the shooting, which factored into his decision to only charge him with second-degree murder.
At the time of the shooting, it was Houser who called the police to report that the shooting occurred. He admitted to dispatch that he was the one who had fired the gun, but said that he was being attacked and that he had to defend himself. Houser then turned over his .40 caliber pistol and told officers that Nieves had threatened him and appeared to be reaching for a gun.
According to Michelle Malkowski, Nieves’ longtime girlfriend, Houser pulled up to them as they were moving boxes into their apartment and told her that Nieves was “no good to women.” Nieves, of course, was upset by the comment and an argument ensued as Malkowski continued bringing boxes into the apartment. It was then that she heard shots. She ran down the stairs and found her boyfriend bleeding in the street.
Another neighbor recounted that he heard two men shouting and looked out his window. He also heard the shots fired. He looked out again and saw Nieves clutching his chest and Houser pointing a gun at him.
Nieves’ family has filed a civil lawsuit against the city. Houser did not take the stand in his trial which is an unusual move for a defense of self-defense.
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