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Luna's family prays for 'mercy, understanding'
By Joseph Ryan and Stacy St. Clair | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/13/2007

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Juan Luna's family is asking the public to pray for them and the victims' relatives as a jury determines the fate of their 33-year-old son, brother, husband and father.

"I'm really talking from my heart," said Luna's younger sister, Brenda Sanchez, in an interview Saturday. "We are asking everyone to pray for us, especially our mother, and we are asking everyone to pray for the families of the victims."

The Luna family hasn't spoken publicly since the trial began last month. Some of the victims' families reached out to the Lunas -- who have been sitting across a thin courtroom aisle from them during the 14-day trial -- after a jury declared Luna guilty Thursday of the Brown's Chicken murders in Palatine.

"You are now victims of this crime as well," Jennifer Shilling, a daughter of the slain restaurant owners, said after the verdict, surrounded by the relatives of other victims.

Sanchez said Saturday the Luna family also "reaches out to them."

"Whatever happens, we pray for God's mercy and understanding," she said.

His family has been a rock of support for Luna during his five-year incarceration as he has tried to stay a part of their daily lives from his Cook County jail cell.

The large devout Catholic family even attends church in shifts to ensure someone is at Luna's parents house waiting in case he calls. The family, including his 10-year-old son, Brian, regularly visit him in jail.

Luna often calls his son and sends him letters. He can't buy his son and nieces presents, so he draws them sketches from his cell, Sanchez said.

Over the phone, Luna tells Brian to be good to his grandmother and take care of his mother, she said.

"He was a very involved dad and he still is as much as he can be," she said.

On Saturday, Sanchez and Imelda Luna, Juan's wife, shared photographs of their loved one with the Daily Herald. The tall stack of photos was packed with images of Luna and children, including his son, nieces, godchildren and youngest sister.

"He had that vibe and kids were always around him," Sanchez said.

In many ways, Luna was the heart of the family. He was in charge of carving the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner and always held the pinata at family birthday parties at his parent's suburban home.

Sanchez declined to talk about the dread that has replaced much of the happiness that once filled the family.

A jury could decide this week if Luna should face the death penalty for killing seven on Jan. 8, 1993.

"We are a very close family," Sanchez said. "We are taking it day by day."

Luna has been "holding up" and the entire family is "helping each other out" as the trial moves to the punishment phase, she said, declining to address the issue further.

From the beginning of Luna's emotionally wrenching trial, his family has filled the courtroom's second row. On Thursday, more than a dozen relatives and friends were in attendance.

The family has steadfastly refused to talk to the throngs of reporters at each hearing.

As a court clerk read the jury verdict, the family held hands across the bench and starred forward, trying to maintain their composure. Luna's mother broke down in a panic attack that required medical treatment when the court was adjourned. She was able to leave the courthouse on her own, though, with her husband clutching her arm to lend support.

"Your grieving has just begun," Shilling said that evening before a horde of reporters and cameras followed the Luna family to their cars.