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Bucktown beating: Victim in the dark as trial in her 2010 bat-beating is set to begin

Published: Monday, Oct. 14, 2013 10:10 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO (MCT) — The case is about her, about how her life was forever changed, but the young woman with deep brown eyes doesn't know that it will finally go to trial this week. She doesn't realize that, in a Chicago courtroom, jury selection will begin Tuesday. Her family doesn't talk about such things.

"No, no. We wouldn't say that to her, in case it brings back memories," said the woman's father, Liam McShane. "Maybe someday if she can get better, she'll have to know. But I don't feel that I have to tell her now."

Three and a half years have passed since Natasha McShane and her friend Stacy Jurich were attacked by a bat-wielding mugger in Bucktown. The brutal beating left McShane, an exchange student from Northern Ireland, with head injuries so severe that she cannot walk or speak.

On Tuesday, attorneys will begin selecting the jurors who will decide the fate of Heriberto Viramontes, the 34-year-old man accused of the attack who now faces 25 felony counts, including armed robbery and attempted murder.

In Northern Ireland, McShane's family doesn't know if she would understand talk about the trial.

"She's moving her head around more. She's tracking. She seems to be more with it," said her father, speaking from his home in Silverbridge, County Armagh, where the family now cares for the severely disabled 27-year-old around the clock. "How great (her understanding) is, I don't know."

Opening statements in what is likely to be an emotional trial could begin as soon as Wednesday. McShane's mother, Sheila, is expected to testify on the extent of her daughter's injuries. Also expected to take the stand is Jurich, the young woman who was attacked with McShane and escaped with less serious injuries.

But among the most powerful evidence will no doubt be a video of McShane. It shows scenes from her life — including a clip of her trying to walk, another where she tries to stand on one foot and a third where she drinks from a cup — to illustrate the devastating impact of the attack.

At a hearing last week, Cook County Judge Jorge Alonso, who will preside over the trial, said he would allow all video segments except one that shows McShane, shortly after the attack, trying to put pegs in a pegboard as part of physical therapy. The judge called the clip "the most disturbing one." The defense had argued it could be too prejudicial.

The trial centers on events that occurred in the early morning of April 23, 2010. McShane and Jurich were on their way home from a bar and were crossing under a viaduct in the 1800 block of North Damen Avenue about 3:30 a.m. when, prosecutors say, Viramontes spotted them before he bashed their heads with a bat and snatched their purses.

His alleged accomplice, Marcy Cruz, 28, waited in a van during the attack, according to authorities. In a statement to prosecutors, she said Viramontes talked earlier that night about committing a robbery.

When she parked near Milwaukee Avenue, he jumped out of the van with a baseball bat and returned about five minutes later with two purses, according to the statement.

Cruz agreed to testify against Viramontes to avoid a murder charge if McShane dies. She pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted murder and agreed to a reduced sentence of 22 years.

Legal wrangling over DNA evidence and other issues repeatedly delayed the trial of Viramontes, who has an extensive criminal background that includes convictions of burglary, domestic battery and possession of a stolen motor vehicle, according to court records.

His attorneys have indicated that they will not dispute McShane's injuries. Rather, they are expected to argue misidentification. They said at a hearing last week that they may call a person who phoned police about eight hours after the attack and claimed to have seen a man holding a baseball bat about a mile from the scene of the attack.

Although McShane suffered the more serious injuries, Jurich was also left with cognitive impairments. In a written statement to the Tribune last week, Jurich said her life since the attack has been far from normal.

She has returned to work, but she wrote that "physically and mentally the attack has taken a toll on me. Some days are better than others. Learning to accept the brain I have today will never be what it was is difficult, still a struggle at times. The priority now is getting through trial and hopefully finding justice for myself and dear Natasha."

McShane's father said she recently was strong enough to take several steps using a walker, as long as people stood on either side. Her endurance has improved so she can attend physical therapy three times a week. The family takes her to a swimming pool equipped with a special lift that lowers her into the water while she sits in a chair. She floats with the help of a therapist.

"She's only floating and kicking her legs, but she loves the pool. You know from her face, her eyes and her smile," her father said.

But she still can't speak, except to sometimes murmur "yes" or "no." She can't tell her parents when she needs to go to the bathroom. During meals, her parents must cut her food.

The family is looking forward to the trial, but only to "get it over and done with and forget about it," McShane's father said. "You don't know what emotions (the trial) will bring to the surface."

McShane's mother, father and two siblings will attend the proceedings. But no one in the family will talk to her about the trial because, her father said, "you wouldn't want to upset her."

"I just tell her that, 'You're doing well and you're getting better,'" he said. "'You're going to be 100 percent better.'"

(c)2013 the Chicago Tribune Distributed by MCT Information Services

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