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New attorney in Nico shooting appeal

The appellate court has agreed hear appeal Mark Downs sentenced 70 years prisfor 1996 murder 6-year-old Nico Contreras Aurora.

The appellate court has agreed to hear the appeal of Mark Downs, sentenced to 70 years in prison for the 1996 murder of 6-year-old Nico Contreras of Aurora.

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Updated: September 18, 2012 6:12AM

The man convicted of shooting a 6-year-old Aurora boy 16 years ago got a new attorney Thursday, as he tries to appeal his murder conviction.

In 2010, Mark Downs, 35, of Montgomery, was sentenced to 70 years in prison for the 1996 slaying of Nico Contreras. The boy was sleeping at his grandmother’s house on Aurora’s near East Side when he was shot by gang members targeting his uncle. The crime went unsolved for 11 years, until a fellow gang member identified Downs as the shooter.

After Downs was convicted, he filed several standard post-trial motions. In those motions, he argued that David Kliment, then the Kane County public defender, was ineffective as his attorney. Downs said Kliment, who is now a judge, did not properly investigate Downs’ alibi claims and he pursued a jury trial when Downs asked for a bench trial. At one point in the post-trial motions, Downs had no attorney while facing arguments from both prosecutors and a defense attorney.

In June, the appellate court gave Downs a second chance to argue his ineffective counsel claims.

Thursday was Downs’ first appearance in court since the appellate ruling. Ron Haskell, a veteran Kane County defense attorney, was appointed to represent Downs on his post-trial motions.

If Downs were to win that argument, he could be granted a new trial. It is not uncommon for defendants to argue ineffective counsel, but it is very difficult to prove.

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