Gang member sentenced to 70 years in shooting death of 6-year-old

Clifford Ward (Chicago Tribune)
April 8, 2010

A former street gang member already behind bars was sentenced to 70 years in prison Thursday for the 1996 murder of a 6-year-old boy who was sleeping at his grandparents’ house in Aurora.

Kane County Judge Timothy Sheldon sentenced Mark A. Downs almost a year after a jury found him guilty of murdering Nicholas “Nico” Contreras during a botched gang-retaliation shooting.

The crime shocked Aurora residents and produced a wave of anti-gang sentiment.

Downs, 33, was already serving time for a 2004 gang-related shooting when former gang members implicated him in Contreras’ death. Witnesses at his trial said that on Nov. 10, 1996, Downs fired through a bedroom window into the home of the child’s grandparents, thinking the boy’s uncle, a gang rival, would be there.

The uncle, no longer lived at the house.

Instead, two of the shots hit the sleeping child.

The sentencing hearing ended a 13-year ordeal for the boy’s parents, Javier and Sandi Contreras, though both said at the hearing that they still grieve.

“At times I hurt so much I can’t breathe,” Sandi Contreras said.

Both said they are still guilt-ridden over their decision to allow their first-born son to spend the night with his grandparents.

“How did I let this happen to my son?” Javier Contreras told the judge.

Nico’s death spurred a public backlash against gang crime in Aurora, but there was no arrest until 10 years later, when a former gang member told authorities what he knew about the shooting.

Prosecutor Sal LoPiccolo asked Sheldon to sentence Downs to the 100-year maximum term, calling him a “serial shooter.”

Downs maintained his innocence, blaming another gang member for the shooting. During the trial, former gang member Ruben Davila testified he had been ordered to shoot into the house, but could not pull the trigger. Downs, who was with him, took the gun and opened fire, Davila said.

“I am absolutely, 100 percent not guilty of this crime,” Downs said Thursday.

Sheldon ordered Downs to complete his sentence for the 2004 attempted murder before he begins serving the sentence for Nico’s death. Under that scenario, he won’t leave prison until 2054.

The Contrerases said they have formed the Nico Foundation to remember their son. The foundation will seek donations for families facing tragedies, Sandi Contreras said. Javier Contreras said the foundation will also promote The Nico Pledge in schools, asking students to take a vow against joining a street gang.

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3 Comments for “Gang member sentenced to 70 years in shooting death of 6-year-old”

  1. La Verdad

    More than likely the kid would have grown up to be a gang banger anyway.

    • Karma

      Have some f#@$king respect , This fool is going to get it when he returns to prison crimes against children is frown upon. God rest your soul little one

    • you a straight blank hole to say something like that ,no matter what color the kid, was he didnt deserved to be shot like that!

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