Ill. jury convicts former officer of 4 rapes
By DAVID MERCER
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A former Bloomington police sergeant was convicted Wednesday of raping four women and stalking a fifth, ending a trial in which prosecutors said he was driven by pornography-fueled fantasies.
Jeff Pelo, 43, was found guilty on 35 counts, including 25 of aggravated sexual assault. Two other charges were dropped during the trial.
The rapes took place from 2002 to 2005. Pelo has been jailed since his June 2006 arrest, unable to post $100,000 to cover $1 million bail.
Prosecutor Mark Messman noted that the jurors reached their decision despite a lack of DNA or similar forensic evidence linking Pelo directly to the rapes.
"There was no smoking gun; (but) there were several very strong pieces of evidence," he said.
Three of the women picked Pelo out of a photo lineup.
Defense attorney Michael Rosenblat said he likely would appeal. He plans to argue that the judge shouldn't have let jurors see pornography found on Pelo's home computer, and should have let the defense call an expert witness to testify about the reliability of eyewitness identifications.
"I believed before opening statements and I believe today that Jeff is not guilty," Rosenblat said.
Messman portrayed Pelo as a man driven on the one hand by violent fantasies, and on the other by a desire to be his victims' boyfriend. At least one of the women described her attacker as gentle and polite.
Investigators found numerous images of violent pornography - some depicting forced sex at gunpoint - on Pelo's home computer.
Rosenblat said whatever taste Pelo might have for pornography was irrelevant.
The defense attorney seized on discrepancies offered by the victims, particularly one woman's description of an attacker as young as his early 20s.
"The descriptions of these attacks vary widely," the attorney told jurors. "They differ because different people committed these attacks."
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