Former trainee court security officers used inappropriate behavior during trial
By Jim Newton firstname.lastname@example.org | @JimNewton5 December 31, 2013 6:08AM
Updated: February 1, 2014 6:14AM
Two former trainee court security officers made inappropriate overtures involving a witness and an alternate juror during the trial of former Gurnee fugitive Sandra Lopez, officials said Monday in Lake County Circuit Court.
As a result, Judge John Phillips ordered that both men, including one who left his phone number in a sack lunch given to the juror, must appear in court to ensure that nothing they did jeopardized the outcome of the trial, in which Lopez was convicted of home invasion.
Phillips said the two would be subpoenaed as court’s witnesses, but added that he was impressed with the thoroughness of a sheriff’s office investigation into the situation and that the hearing, scheduled next month, would not “be a fishing expedition for the defense.”
But Phillips said the situation was serious enough to clear up at the circuit court level so that it does not become “a red herring issue for the appellate court to consider.”
The two men were trainee employees for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, which has concluded its investigation into the incidents. A report from the investigation has been provided to the court, the prosecution and the defense. Both trainees lost their jobs.
Defense attorney Christopher Lombardo said that one of the security officers made conversation and exchanged texts with an alternate juror after she was no longer part of the jury. The officer also left a note with his phone number in a sack lunch delivered to her at the courthouse.
The second officer asked a witness in the trial — the daughter of defendant Lopez — to give his phone number to a friend of the witness whom he found attractive, Lombardo said.
Lombardo said that while none of those facts may have compromised the trial, he wanted to find out whether either officer made contact with any of the jurors who actually deliberated on the verdict, because the officers may have had access to information discussed in the courtroom when the jury was not present.
Such a situation, Lombardo said, could lead to a reversal of the verdict, according to past legal precedent.
Lombardo indicated he may attempt to contact the other jurors now that the sheriff’s investigation has ended.
Assistant State’s Attorney Jim Newman, while acknowledging that the behavior of the officers was inappropriate, said nothing in the sheriff’s office 56-page report on the issue uncovered anything that brought the propriety of the trial into question.
Lopez was convicted on three counts of home invasion and two counts of armed robbery by the jury in October, and had been scheduled for sentencing Dec. 18 before the issues involving the security officers came up.
Lopez, who fled the country for El Salvador after being charged in the 1999 home invasion, was found to have inflicted a knife injury to one of the two victims in the case.
According to officials and testimony at the trial, Lopez, 43, planned and helped carry out the armed robbery of two women in a Park City home, stabbing one in the hand and using duct tape to bind them before making off with jewelry.
In a separate 1995 case, Lopez had beaten murder charges in the stabbing death of her husband in his Highwood restaurant.
Lopez remains in Lake County Jail, where she has been held on $1 million bond since her arrest after she returned to the U.S. She was present in court Monday as the incidents concerning the former officers were discussed.