PAXTON — A Paxton police officer detailed Monday a man's account of being kidnapped, beaten and robbed by two masked men with a pistol and baseball bat, as a third allegedly oversaw the commission of the crime from afar.
Officer Chad Johnson's testimony provided enough evidence to proceed with felony charges against all three men, Judge Paul Lawrence ruled during their preliminary hearing in Ford County Circuit Court.
Their cases were continued to 10 a.m. March 10.
Ford County State's Attorney Matt Fitton last month charged Rodolfo A. Cerritos, 25, of Paxton; Evigan J. Marcos, 24, of Loda; and Eduardo Samano, 22, of Berwyn, with one count each of armed robbery, a Class X felony; kidnapping, a Class 2 felony; and aggravated battery, a Class 3 felony.
On Monday, Fitton filed one additional count of armed robbery and kidnapping against all three, with the charges specifying the items taken during the robbery and the intent to "secretly confine (the victim) against his will."
Johnson, the only witness called by Fitton to testify, said the victim — Joel Hastings of rural Paxton — reported the incident to Paxton police around 8:30 p.m. Dec. 9.
Hastings, who works as general manager at NexStep Commercial Products in Paxton, told Johnson that he was leaving work about 5:30 p.m. earlier that day when, upon arriving at his car in the business' parking lot, he opened a door to put his briefcase in the back seat and saw a man wearing a mask or "clothing over his face" in the back seat pointing a gun at him.
Hastings said he was retreating when a second man struck him from behind with a baseball bat, Johnson said. Hastings was then forced into the back seat of his car.
The man with the bat got in the driver's seat, while the man with the gun remained in the back seat, Hastings told Johnson. They then used "zip-ties" to restrain Hastings. They then drove out of the parking lot and around rural areas in Ford and Iroquois counties, forcing Hastings to keep his head down so he could not see outside, Johnson said.
While driving around, they beat Hastings with the pistol and bat and "dry-fired" the gun twice while it was pointed at his head, Hastings told Johnson.
They also robbed him of $300 in cash that he had in his possession, plus two credit cards, a cell phone, and two profit-sharing checks written to Hastings from his employer, Johnson said.
They let Hastings leave under the condition he later provide them with $50,000 in cash or "the same value in drugs," Johnson said. Before allowing him to leave, the two men parked Hastings' car on the side of a rural road, placed Hastings face-down on the ground with his car's keys near him, and told him to count to 1,000, Johnson said.
Hastings said he could hear a vehicle arrive, and the two men then got into the vehicle and left.
Hastings, who had visible bruising and lumps on his head when interviewed by police, was unable to identify the men because they were disguised, Johnson said, but Hastings said he believed both were Hispanic as both were speaking Spanish.
Cerritos and Marcos admitted to police after their arrest that they were in the vehicle with Hastings, Johnson said. Both told police that Samano was the one who picked them up and that he planned and organized the crime.
All three men were arrested in January following a multijurisdictional investigation that included assistance by the FBI.
Johnson said Cerritos was arrested first, after he was seen retrieving $50,000 in cash that the FBI had placed in a garbage can at the park in Loda on Jan. 15. Johnson said the kidnappers told Hastings to leave the money at the park earlier that day.
A GPS tracking device that was with the money showed Cerritos left the park and went to a trailer in Loda, where he left the money. Cerritos then drove to Paxton, where he was arrested by Paxton police, FBI agents and state police during a traffic stop.
Johnson said Cerritos admitted using a baseball bat and pistol to beat Hastings and rob him. He also implicated Marcos and Samano in the crime.
Johnson said police learned that Marcos was headed from Chicago to the trailer in Loda where the money was left. Marcos was arrested later on Jan. 15 at the trailer. Marcos admitted his involvement and also implicated Cerritos and Samano, Johnson said.
Samano was later arrested in Berwyn. Police were unable to interview Samano because he had already been appointed an attorney prior to his arrival at the Ford County Jail.
In ruling that probable cause exists to proceed with charges against all three men, Lawrence said the prosecution has shown enough evidence that Samano may have been "accountable" for the crime, even though he was not present during it.
"It certainly appears to be proceeding as an accountability case," Lawrence said, noting Samano's codefendants identified him as the "leader."
Lawrence also denied a motion by Samano's attorney, Lance Cagle of Paxton, requesting Samano's $250,000 bond be reduced to $100,000, meaning he would have had to pay $10,000 to be released from jail. Cagle argued bond should be reduced based on his lack of criminal history and lack of resources to pay the $25,000 required.
Prior to Lawrence's ruling to reject Cagle's motion, Fitton pointed out the seriousness of the offenses and that Hastings has "apprehensions" about the offenders being released.
Meanwhile, Lawrence granted a motion by Fitton ordering each defendant submit to DNA swabs.
All three men remain at the Ford County Jail on $250,000 bond.
If convicted, all three men face a potential sentence of six to 30 years in prison for the most serious of the charges, the Class X felony.