In August 2015, Thaddeus “TJ” Jimenez – a wannabe Chicago gang boss with millions of dollars from wrongful convictions – took aim from his Mercedes convertible and shot a man in the leg as “Ave Maria” blasted the car stereo and a colleague caught the whole thing on a cell phone video that went viral.
On Wednesday, nearly eight years later, Jimenez pleaded guilty to aggravated battery and was sentenced to 12 years in state prison, completing the last criminal case he faced.
It is one of Chicago’s longest-running criminal cases. Of the thousands held in the Cook County Jail awaiting trial, the case against Jimenez — which was the subject of season 1 of “Motive,” the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ podcast in 2019 — including the oldest.
He was arrested August 17, 2015, after stopping at Earl Casteel on Belle Plaine Avenue in Irving Park on the Northwest Side, asking “Why didn’t I blow you up?” and then shot him in the leg.
Jimenez and his passenger, a friend of the gang, were arrested after Jimenez crashed the car – one of many luxury vehicles he bought with money paid by City Hall – during a police chase.
In happy times, Thaddeus “TJ” Jimenez and his mother Victoria Jimenez on June 3, 2009, after he was awarded a certificate of innocence in a murder case that sent him to prison at the age of 13.
Brian Jackson / Sun-Times Files
The podcast examines Jimenez’s life – including his arrest for murder at age 13, his acquittal at age 30, his award of $25 million in wrongful lawsuits and his decision to spend that money on his gang, the Simon City Royals on the Northwest Side, along with another gang faction, the Vice Lords, whose members he recruited on the West Side.
The 2015 shooting case was complicated by the fact that Jimenez and passenger Jose Roman were charged with federal and state charges for the same crime.
In 2017, Jimenez was sentenced to 110 months in federal prison and Roman to 87 months after they pleaded guilty to illegal gun possession.
Before sentencing them, US District Judge Harry Leinenweber watched the video Roman made of their car ride and the shooting and declared it “shocking” and “Evidence A for gun violence.”
Roman later pleaded guilty in Cook County criminal court to aggravating battery and was sentenced to six years in prison. He was released last year.
But the Cook County Jimenez case dragged on. In part, that’s because he filed a failed appeal, arguing that the state’s charges were unconstitutional because he was already charged in federal court with the same basic crimes. His lawyer Steve Greenberg argued that this amounted to double jeopardy.
Jimenez’s federal and state sentences will run concurrently. That means he will have to serve 12 years since his 2015 arrest. He will earn credit for the nearly eight years he has spent in prison pending trial. He was also able to get a “good time” in jail which could shave 15% of his sentence.
In court Wednesday, Jimenez appeared in a brown prison uniform, with his hands in shackles.
He politely answered questions from the judge but chose not to give a statement about the crime.
After the court hearing, Greenberg reflected on his client’s case:
“I think he’s been traumatized from being in prison,” Greenberg said. “Returning to a place where you were illegally locked up must be terrible. And he has been fighting for a decade now.
“I don’t think I’ve ever represented anyone who has a history like Thaddeus, who has the trauma that he went through in life. And I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where someone came back into that life like he did.
“I think he wants to live a normal life. I think it’s hard for him to live a normal life because he was never allowed to have a normal life. But, in the end when he gets out now – he’s an adult – he’ll be able to get a job. I know he has a good support system now. He has a beautiful girlfriend. He has a child now.”
As part of Jimenez’s plea deal, prosecutors agreed not to pursue charges he still faces over a gang fight that Cook County sheriff officials say he got into at the Cook County Jail.
But Jimenez’s legal problems will continue in civil court. Casteel, the man Jimenez shot, is suing him over the shooting, which left him disabled. In 2016, Casteel won a $6.3 million appraisal against Jimenez.
However, in 2021, Casteel shot his wife dead and committed suicide.
Now, his lawyers continue to try to piece together a ruling on behalf of the Casteel children, according to court records.
Thaddeus “TJ” Jimenez is shown in a cellphone video August 17, 2015, in the Northwest Side. Shortly after posing here, the video captures Jimenez shooting Earl Casteel in the leg.