URBANA — Hands tied behind her back with old telephone wire and barricaded in a closet in her Urbana home, a 79-year-old woman found a pair of scissors among the suitcase, box and other items stored in the closet.
And she sawed away, accidentally scratching herself in the process, until she managed to cut through the wire.
Once free, she was able to stand and turn on the light. But a cabinet, filled with old records and pushed in front of the closet door, prevented her from getting out. And because she was in a room in the back of her home, she did not scream because she didn't think anyone could hear her. Using her arms and her back, and scooting around on the closet floor, she tried to bang her way out of the closet, but could not. That was on Friday evening, Jan. 21.
Sixty-six hours after a stranger came to her door and robbed her of some jewelry and cash, a mail carrier noticed things were amiss at the house and police were notified. And in the early afternoon of Monday, Jan. 24, the woman was set free from the closet.
Now 80 years old, the victim testified Tuesday in Champaign County Circuit Court before Judge Heidi Ladd as a witness for the state in its case against Steven E. Taylor, who listed an address on the 1300 block of East Michigan Avenue, Urbana.
Taylor is charged with home invasion, armed robbery and aggravated criminal sexual abuse. His attorney is Alfred Ivy.
In March, police arrested Taylor in Urbana after the Illinois State Police forensic science laboratory in Springfield matched his DNA to samples taken from the woman's body after she was rescued.
In his opening statement to the jury, Assistant State's Attorney Troy Lozar described the victim, who has lived alone in recent years following the death of her husband, as a "remarkably ... strong woman."
"This case is foremost about survival," Lozar said.
The woman testified she was at her home on the 1500 block of Fairlawn Drive, Urbana, on that Friday evening when a man knocked on her door. She answered it.
"He said, 'My name is Steve' and he was looking for someone named Jack Brown," she said.
She said she didn't know anyone by that name and turned away from the door. She told the jury he came inside and asked for money. She gave him several $1 bills, but then he asked for her jewelry.
"I was not going to fight with him. He had the weapon, I didn't," the woman said. She described seeing a shiny blade about 4 inches long, but not a handle.
In one of the bedrooms, he ordered her to strip, she testified, and she took off most of her clothes. The man then rubbed part of his body against her chest. Later she was able to start getting dressed again and realized she had a cell phone. She told jurors she tried to hide it from the intruder before he put her in the closet, but when he saw the phone, he hit her on the left side of the face.
Asked if she could identify the person who came to her house that night, the witness said she would not be able to do so.
"I don't think I could identify him. ... He had a hood up over his face. I didn't get a good look at him," she said.
Also testifying on Tuesday was mail carrier Darryl Dague who said when he delivered mail to her house on Monday, Jan. 24, he noticed the woman's mail had not been picked up, which was unusual, he said, because she always picked up her mail. Plus, the door was not shut all the way. He called his supervisor, and within a few minutes, Urbana police came to the house.
Urbana police Officer Kurt Buckley described finding the house in disarray and hearing a female voice cry out, "I'm in here! I'm in here!"
"We ran to sound of the voice," he said. He and another officer moved the cabinet and were able to free her from the closet.
The trial is expected to continue today in Champaign County Circuit Court.