Jurors acquit Aurora men
Lester Salter remained calm, but Corey Jenkins and Michael Turner sobbed Thursday as a Kane County jury returned verdicts of not guilty in their trial for the 1993 murder of an elderly Aurora Township woman.
A jury of nine men and three women took a little more than three hours to clear the three of 75-year-old Virginia Johannessen's shooting death.
Moment later, the Aurora men-Slater and Turner, both 24, and Jenkins, 23-embraced in Circuit Judge Melvin Dunn's courtroom.
"May God be with us," Turner cried.
Relatives of the three defendants, who sat through nearly two weeks of trial, wept as each man was cleared of two counts of murder.
"I'm overwhelmed," said Lester Salter Sr., who had maintained that his son was innocent since the younger Salter was charged. "I can't even talk right now."
Dorothy Hughes, Jenkins' grandmother, said she could feel a sense of relief for the neighbors and friends of the Johannessen, one of two women living along Felton Road who were gunned down in their homes last year.
The neighborhood had only begun to recover from the Johannessen slaying when 56-year-old Mary Jill Oberweis, who lived about a quarter-mile from Johannessen, was found shot to death in her home in October. No arrests have been made in that killing.
Ken Johannessen, Virginia's nephew, said the verdict is yet another blow to a traumatized neighborhood.
"It's emotionally draining," Johannessen said. "We knew going into this trial that it was a weak case."
Prosecutor John Barsanti conceded from the beginning that evidence against the men was circumstantial, but it was case made even weaker when Dunn refused to allow introduction of hearsay testimony that might have tied the defendants to the scene.
Barsanti declined comment Thursday.
Police found no physical evidence linking the defendants to the crime. Johannessen's car was found in a supermarket parking lot on the same day her body was discovered, but only a handful of inexpensive jewelry items was reported missing from her home.
Only the testimony of Lori Mohle, a former live-in girlfriend of a fourth man charged in the case, placed the men near Johannessen's home on January 2, 1993, the night prosecutors say she died.
Lionel Lane, the fourth suspect, is awaiting a separate trial in the case.
Defense attorneys, however, successfully clouded Mohle's credibility in juror's eyes, hammering away at her police record, her history of drug use and her conflicting accounts of the incident she gave police.
Foreman Hal Bowen of Elgin said the jury wasn't convinced that Mohle was in the car near Johannessen's house that night as she testified.
"Some people thought she was good, some thought she was bad," Bowen said. "But it came down to the fact that people didn't feel [prosecutors] took it beyond a reasonable doubt."
David Camic, Turner's attorney, called the verdict courageous.
"It would have been easy for the jury to ignore the evidence and rely simply on Mr. Barsanti's very clever argument," Camic said. "I believe Lori Mohle might very well know something about this, but it isn't because of her association with these three gentlemen.