Two men accused of killing an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire of their shooting in Norristown last year were found guilty of first-degree murder on Thursday and sentenced to life in prison.
After less than six hours of deliberation, a jury convicted Edwin Islas-Cruz and Joshua Agudio of the September 2021 murder of Barry Fields. Fields, 51, was sitting on the porch of his sister’s home on a Saturday afternoon when he was shot in the head.
Fields was pronounced dead at the scene. The bullet that hit him came from Agudio’s gun, prosecutors said.
The shooting in broad daylight was the violent culmination of a social media altercation that had brewed between the two men, with Agudio reportedly obsessed with the idea of ”spikes” and “rats” in his neighborhood and openly calling out enemies to whom he should face him, prosecutors said.
The two men were convicted shortly after their convictions and did not visibly respond to the jury foreman’s reading of the verdict. Loud sighs and tears were heard from the benches where Fields’ family sat as the verdict was announced, and some friends and family members of Agudio and Isla-Cruz wiped away tears.
As the two men were led away in handcuffs, officers knocked Agudio to the ground, causing a maelstrom as his friends rushed to the tables at the front of the courtroom. There was a brief but tense altercation between the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Deputies and Agudio’s friends, who screamed and cursed as the deputies put their hands on their tasers and ordered the crowd to back off.
Deputy Sheriff cleared the courtroom after the standoff.
Agudio’s attorney Brendan Campbell said the situation escalated after MPs began leading Agudio away as the two were chatting about the appeal process, asking Agudio to end the conversation.
The verdict, sentencing and chaotic scene followed a morning of closing arguments from attorneys for Islas-Cruz and Agudio. They argued their clients had either been mugged or had no intention of killing anyone with the nearly 40 bullets exchanged that September day.
Last September, Agudio was with a group of men outside a terraced house on Astor Street when a Toyota Camry pulled up in front of them, prosecutors said. The two men in the car, Islas-Cruz and Giovanni Islas, got out and began shooting, according to court documents.
Agudio ran away and returned fire, according to court documents. Islas-Cruz and Islas got back in the car and fled.
Taking to social media, Agudio had called his co-defendants “rats” in an unrelated illegal weapons case for alleged collusion with police, prosecutors said. Islas-Cruz is friends with the men Agudio called and was upset by the threats, prosecutors said.
In Campbell’s final pitch before the jury, he claimed that Agudio was merely defending himself when he fired back at Islas-Cruz and Islas.
“September 18, 2021 was an absolute ambush,” Campbell said.
Meanwhile, Islas-Cruz attorney Todd Fiore argued that both men were skilled with guns and the fact that neither was hit by gunfire, despite firing dozens of shots, meant his client had no intention have to hurt or kill someone.
“If a person wanted that person dead, they would be dead,” Fiore told jurors.
But prosecutors said when the two men exchanged shots that day, each other’s lives were set to end.
“That was eight seconds of laser-focused hate,” Assistant District Attorney Samantha Cauffman told jurors.
The two men “did everything they could to kill each other,” Cauffman said, ignoring bystanders like Fields.
Both Fiore and Campbell said they were disappointed with the verdict.
Cauffman said she was proud of the verdict and hoped Fields’ family felt the justice system worked, despite offering cold comfort after his loss.
“I am very grateful to the jury for seeing the truth. And what just happened in the courtroom, I think it explains exactly what happened on the street that day. And that’s why we’re here. It’s unfortunate but not surprising,” Cauffman said, referring to the altercation between Agudio’s supporters and the sheriff’s deputies.