Former Cop Sobs as Jury Finds Him Guilty of Rapes

Former cop Jeff Pelo sobbed as he was convicted of raping four women, stalking a fifth.

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois (AP) -- A former Bloomington police sergeant has been convicted of raping four women and stalking a fifth, ending a trial in which prosecutors said he was driven by pornography-fueled fantasies.
Former cop Jeff Pelo sobbed as he was convicted of raping four women, stalking a fifth.

Jeff Pelo, 43, was found guilty on 35 counts, including 25 of aggravated sexual assault. Two other charges were dropped during the trial.

Pelo, who spent much of the trial looking at the table in front of him and taking notes, shook his head and sobbed as the verdict was read. His wife, Rickilee, yelled and ran from the court with the couple's three teenage children.

She later apologized for her outburst but insisted to reporters that "they've got the wrong man."

"I feel badly for the victims," she added. "I stand behind my husband. I know my husband is not guilty."

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. Messman also laid out evidence that Pelo's police computer login had been used to access background information about the rape victims before they were attacked.

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.

Pelo was arrested when another Bloomington officer spotted him outside a woman's home after she called to report a prowler. Pelo said he was merely in the neighborhood shopping for a home to buy his mother-in-law.

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.

But another testified that between what were multiple rapes over two hours, she told her attacker she was pregnant. After seeing an engagement ring on her finger and asking how her fiance and parents would feel knowing she'd been raped while pregnant, she said the attacker was elated.

"He was like a kid at Christmas," she said while crying.

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."

The most serious charges against Pelo carry sentences of up to 45 years in prison, and prosecutors have said Pelo could spend the rest of his life behind bars. Sentencing is set for August 12.

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