Aurora man convicted of first-degree murder

An Aurora man was found guilty Thursday of first-degree murder in connection with the killing of a man he mistakenly thought belonged to a rival gang, officials said.

Cesar J. Ponce, 19, was found guilty by a Kane County jury of first-degree murder, according to a news release from the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office. Ponce did not fire the weapon that killed 46-year-old Samuel Ortiz-Rodriguez of North Aurora, but was held accountable because he participated in the crime, prosecutors said.

Ponce, of the 500 block of East Downer Place, and two members of the same gang went searching for rival gang members around 7:30 p.m. May 24, 2021, officials said. Co-defendant Fidel Bello is accused of being armed with a revolver, officials said.

While walking through a part of Aurora considered to be a rival gang’s territory, they spotted individuals outside a house in the 400 block of South Spencer Street, including Ortiz-Rodriguez, who was standing in the driveway, prosecutors said.

Ponce pointed out the individuals and Bello is accused of shooting Ortiz-Rodriguez, who was not a street gang member, officials said.

Ponce faces a minimum of 35 years in prison and is due for sentencing on May 3, according to the release. The jury deliberated for about three hours before reaching the verdict.

He remains in custody at the Kane County jail, where he has been held in lieu of $1 million bail since his arrest.

Bello, 18, of the 300 block of Sheldon Avenue, was also charged with first-degree murder and his case is still pending.