Fundraiser for Natasha McShane

Sheila and Liam McShane, parents of Natasha McShane at their daughter's fundraiser. (E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune / June 13, 2010)

The mother of Natasha McShane left the courtroom in tears today as a neurosurgeon described the damage done to her daughter’s brain when the Northern Ireland exchange student was beaten by a baseball bat-wielding mugger in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood in 2010.

McShane and her friend, Stacy Jurich, both now 27, were struck in the head and robbed under a Damen Avenue viaduct while returning home after a night out celebrating their recent work and school successes. Neither woman saw the attacker’s face.

Heriberto Viramontes, 34, has been on trial this week on 25 counts of attempted first-degree murder, armed robbery and aggravated battery.

McShane’s mother, Sheila, her primary caregiver back in Northern Ireland, wept as she stepped from the courtroom as Dr. Leonard Kranzler testified that the damaged section of her daughter’s brain controls “speech, understanding and the abililty to move the right arm and leg.”

At the time of the attack, McShane was a graduate student in urban development but now cannot speak more than a few words or walk unassisted.

Kranzler testified that he had to remove three-quarters of an inch section of McShane’s fractured skull to save her life after her brain swelled as a result of the beating. Kranzler said he also found evidence that McShane had suffered a stroke as her brain swelled.

The wooden baseball bat that prosecutors allege Viramontes used in the attack was shown to jurors today. Police found the bat between the front seats of a gray minivan belonging to Marcy Cruz, who was with Viramontes the night of the beating. She has already pleaded guilty in return for a 22-year prison sentence and is expected to testify against him as soon as Monday.

The bat was found with Viramontes’ black wallet and state ID card in the van, Chicago police Cmdr. Joseph Salemme testified.

Another prosecution witness, Johnny Paige, testified today that he was given Jurich’s credit card for jump-starting a minivan that broke down in the East Garfield Park neighborhood in the hours after the robbery. Paige identified the man as Viramontes in a photo array and police lineup at the time, but he was unable to pick out Viramontes in the courtroom today.

Paige’s niece, Latoya, testified her aunt gave her Jurich’s credit card and she used it to pay off her Comcast bill of more than $500. She said she destroyed the card after being questioned by police.

sschmadeke@tribune.com