June 18, 2008 -- A jury found a former Bloomington police sergeant guilty Wednesday of brutally raping four women and stalking a fifth after a trial in which he was described as both driven by pornography-fueled fantasies and a man arrested on flimsy evidence.
Jurors deliberated over parts of three days in Bloomington before convicting Jeff Pelo on 35 counts, including 25 of aggravated sexual assault.
The six men and six women reached their decision despite a lack of DNA or similar forensic evidence linking Pelo directly to the rapes, said prosecutor Mark Messman, who added he was pleased for the victims.
"There was no smoking gun; (but) there were several very strong pieces of evidence," he said.
Messman said he would expect jurors had varying reasons for finding Pelo guilty.
"I wouldn't be surprised if you polled the jurors...if you got 12 different responses, or three or four different responses," he said.
Defense attorney Michael Rosenblat said he likely would appeal. He plans to file motions arguing Circuit Judge Robert Freitag shouldn't have let jurors view pornographic images found on Pelo's home computer, and should have let Rosenblat call an expert witness to testify about the reliability of eyewitness identification of suspects.
"I believed before opening statements and I believe today that Jeff is not guilty," Rosenblat said.
Pelo, 43, pleaded not guilty to all 37 counts originally facing him; two charges were dropped during trial.
He has been jailed since his June 2006 arrest, unable to afford the $100,000 he'd have to pay to make his $1 million bail.
Pelo was charged in the rapes of four women between 2002 and 2005 and the stalking of a fifth woman.
The case was long delayed, in part by Pelo's attorneys. His first withdrew from the trial because of health problems, and the two who took his place withdrew after several months because Pelo couldn't afford them.
At trial, prosecutor Mark Messman portrayed Pelo as a man driven on the one hand to rape by violent, pornography-fueled 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.
"He has some fantasy, as messed up as it sounds, that they're going to like him," Messman told jurors during his closing arguments.
Rosenblat countered that 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."
Pelo is scheduled to be sentenced August 12.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)