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Elgin woman indicted for murder in Schaumburg hotel shooting
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/8/2010 12:00 AM

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Cook County prosecutors announced a first-degree murder indictment Wednesday against Kristian Branch in the death of Mario C. Charles, a Rockford resident killed last month during a shooting at a Schaumburg hotel.

The grand jury also indicted her on charges of attempted armed robbery and attempted murder of a 26-year-old man from St. Paul, Minn., who was shot during the altercation, which authorities say resulted from a robbery gone wrong.

Authorities say Branch, 28, arrived at a Homestead Studio Suites Hotel room during the early morning hours of March 16. The room was occupied by the 26-year-old Minnesota man, another man and woman from Minnesota, and Vicky West, a Pearl River, La., resident wanted by Schaumburg police on an outstanding bond forfeiture warrant stemming from a prostitution arrest last year.

Branch and West were acquaintances, say police, who believe Branch and Charles, 29, intended to rob West of the money she regularly received from a relative. Branch arrived first, followed about 15 minutes later by Charles, prosecutors say.

At some point, Charles pointed a gun at the victims and he and Branch demanded money, prosecutors say. The 26-year-old Minnesota man also pulled a gun and both men were shot during the ensuing gunfire, prosecutors say.

Branch, who family members claim was Charles' girlfriend, also sustained a gunshot wound to her right foot which caused her to limp during her appearance in a Rolling Meadows courtroom.

Branch's attorney, Cook County Assistant Public Defender Calvin Aguilar, disputes prosecutors' version of the events, insisting that neither robbery nor murder occurred.

Branch was charged with murder because Charles' death occurred during a felony she was involved with, authorities said.

About 11 Branch supporters, including friends and family, showed up to the hearing wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the phrases "She's innocent," "Still loved" and "Keep your head up." They declined to comment, citing the advice of counsel.

Branch's criminal history dates back more than a decade. Pending cases against her, according to records and prosecutors, include: a charge of manufacture and delivery of a controlled substance from Kane County, charges of battery, resisting arrest and criminal damage to property from Winnebago County and charges of prostitution in Cook County, which police filed one week before the shooting following a Cook County Sheriff's Department sting.

Branch remains in Cook County Jail on a $3 million bail. She next appears in a Rolling Meadows courtroom for arraignment on April 27.