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Lotto tickets lead cops to murder suspect

Apr 13, 2007, 7:11 pm

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Lottery tickets left at the scene of a double slaying at a Southwest Side grocery store in 2005 have led Chicago police to the suspected killer, police said today.

Timothy Fountain, 36, of the 12700 block of South Morgan Street, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the course of a felony in the Aug. 4, 2005, slayings of Graciela Rodriguez, 38, and Nicholas Guerrero, 74, police spokesman Pat Camden said.

Police believe Fountain shot the two during a hold-up inside Maggy's Food Store at 4458 S. California Ave., where Rodriguez worked as a cashier and Guerrero was a regular customer, Camden said. Police found the bodies in a back room of the store, and the register was open and emptied of cash. Both victims had been shot in the head, police said.

Wentworth Area detectives investigating the case discovered that the offender had played the Illinois State Lottery Pick Four game at the store. The tickets with the numbers he played, 5150 and 5157, were left in the machine.

"In the process of investigating this, they wound up checking the lottery machine," Camden said.

He said detectives ran the numbers through a relatively new database of known robbery offenders and came up with Fountain as a potential suspect. Fountain, a convicted robber already in Cook County Jail on other charges, had previously lived in the 5100 block of South Aberdeen Street.

Later, a witness identified Fountain in a photo line-up as a person seen entering the store prior to the robbery, police said.

Detectives obtained a search warrant to collect Fountain's DNA, and it came back as a match to evidence left inside the convenience store, Camden said.

Camden credited the determination of the detectives and the evolution of DNA and database technology in cracking the case.

"This technology is getting better and better every year, as more information is added to the system," he said.

Reached by telephone at his job at a West Side metal recycling plant, Graciela's husband, Armando Rodriguez Sr., said he has spent the past two years trying to cope with his wife's murder and working to support their two children. He said the senselessness of the killings haunted him.

"I'm very happy they got the guy," said Rodriguez, 41. "People cannot kill people like that, someone you love, for what? For nothing."

Rodriguez said the loss of his wife has been especially hard on the children, Armando Jr., 16, and Jessica, 18.

"I do the best I can but it's very hard. It's very hard for them. They're thinking about their mother all the time, and what can I do?" Rodriguez said. "I try to take care of them."

He said his son is attending high school but Jessica recently dropped out of school because of her difficulty dealing with the loss of her mother.

The convenience store murders shocked the Brighton Park neighborhood, where neighbors and family members created a memorial of flowers, stuffed animals and prayer candles and expressed hope that the killer would be caught.

John Hamouda, who had owned the store for about 11 years at the time of the slayings, told the Tribune that Guerrero used to come in four or five times a day to play lottery tickets and chat. He said it was the first time a shooting had occurred at the store, although he installed bulletproof glass around the front counter in 2004 "just to make it more safe."

Shortly after the slayings, police produced a composite of the suspect from images taken from the store's security cameras mounted in the front near the register.

The robber took a tape from a camera that was set to begin recording later in the day, but not the tape that captured the robbery, police said. The security tape shows a man pointing a gun at Rodriguez, then walking behind the counter and emptying the cash register.

Fountain is scheduled to appear for a bond hearing on the murder charges on Monday, according to Cook County state's attorney's office spokesman Andy Conklin.

Court records show Fountain has a criminal record that dates back to 1990 and includes convictions for burglary, home invasion, drug possession and armed robbery.

In 1994 he was convicted of escaping from a halfway house where he was serving out the remainder of a prison sentence on a work release program, Conklin said.

He was found guilty in a 1998 bench trial of delivery of a controlled substance and sentenced to 6 years in prison, records show. In 2001 he was given a 4-year term after he pleaded guilty to aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.

Fountain is currently jailed in lieu of $400,000 bail awaiting trial on charges stemming from a 2006 home invasion and robbery on the Far South Side, Conklin said.

In that case, Fountain allegedly went to the victim's apartment Aug. 14 armed with a BB gun and robbed her of cash and a cell phone.

He was arrested two weeks later after police at a roadside safety check ran the license plate of the gold Chrysler Sebring he was driving and it came back having been stolen in a carjacking, Conklin said.

Rodriguez said his wife's slaying has left him angry and feeling helpless, especially in his inability to help the police find the killer. He said it was even harder learning that the man charged had a long criminal history.

"I feel like the police have to keep him in jail," Rodriguez said. "I'm very angry because somebody does this to me, to somebody you love, and it's not the first time he did this (committed robbery)... He put the shotgun to her (Graciela's) head. He should not get out."

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