Postponement allows time for research into a possible additional medical exam
A judge on Thursday held off sentencing a former attorney convicted of sexually assaulting a 3-year-old girl, saying he was troubled by some of the evidence presented at trial in May.
Robert Becker, 39, was to be sentenced for sexually assaulting the girl four years ago but Circuit Judge Steve Kouri opted to delay sentencing until Sept. 14, allowing both sides time to research a possible additional medical exam of the girl, now 8.
Becker was convicted in May of using a toy microphone to assault the girl on Easter weekend in 2003. Since then, the case has been a hot topic among the legal community because of Becker’s standing as an attorney, and has been anything but routine.
The judge told a packed courtroom he couldn’t understand how two medical experts — one for the state and one for Becker — disagreed during the trial in May on what he referred to as basic "high school anatomy."
How could, he questioned, the two experts, both of whom were well respected in their fields, disagree on whether there was physical evidence of a sexual assault. He mentioned he had gone home one night during the trial to research whether, legally, he could order an independent physical exam of his own; something he found he could not do.
When reached at thome, Kouri said he could not comment on the case.
Kouri’s comments came during the discussion of a motion Becker’s attorneys, Patrick Cotter and Ron Menaker of Chicago, had put together to request a new trial, citing more than a dozen areas where they thought either Kouri erred in his rulings or Assistant State’s Attorney Jodi Hoos had stepped over the line and committed prosecutorial misconduct.
The courtroom was filled with dozens of Becker’s supporters, all wearing silver ribbons to show support. As the judge laid out his concerns, several appeared to grow hopeful he would throw out the verdicts altogether. Becker himself, shackled and in a black and white jail jumpsuit, perked up when he heard Kouri’s statements.
Kouri nixed that, saying he believed the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s findings of guilty on charges of predatory criminal sexual assault and criminal sexual assault. He praised the three attorneys, saying the case was extremely well done but noted it was a "street fight" from the beginning, with both sides aggressively pursuing their positions.
One instance in particular garnered much attention during the hearing. Kouri had suggested clearing the courtroom when the little girl took the stand. At the time, Becker’s attorneys didn’t object. But on Thursday, they said it violated their client’s right to an open trial. They said they agreed to the move because they thought the other option would have allowed the girl to testify in front of "cheerleaders" and her supporters.
Hoos assailed that, noting Kouri only suggested the idea and it had no impact on the girl’s statement, which was that Becker assaulted her. Kouri defended the move, saying it was allowable under state law.
Still, the judge’s comments regarding the possible exam, were unexpected. Attorneys on both sides said they believed the hearing would last about an hour.
Becker was previously convicted of the charges after a 2004 bench trial and sentenced to 14 years in prison. However, an appellate panel overturned that conviction on the basis his attorney was ineffective and sent the case back for a new trial and a new judge.
Kouri, who normally sits in Tazewell County, was assigned the case after Becker’s initial conviction was overturned.
The case garnered the media’s eye when the appellate court made the unusual move of allowing Becker to remain free on bond pending his appeal. Of the 5,000 criminal appeals from 1995 until 2005, 48 applied for bond. Of those, the justices saw fit to grant bond to 15.
Andy Kravetz can be reached at (309) 686-3283 or email@example.com.