Jeffrey Sanford

Jeffrey Sanford at his bench trial for criminal sexual assault  before Champaign County Judge Randy Rosenbaum.

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URBANA — A Champaign County judge Wednesday convicted a former paramedic employee of two counts of sexual assault in an incident more than a year ago involving a woman he was transporting to the hospital.

Judge Randy Rosenbaum ordered Jeffrey Sanford Jr., 48, of Gifford, to jail while he awaits sentencing after hearing from a prosecutor that Sanford is under investigation for similar criminal conduct with another woman.

He faces four to 15 years in prison when sentenced Dec. 29. Sanford waived his right to a jury and opted for Rosenbaum to decide his guilt or innocence.

A former paramedic for OSF Pro Ambulance, Sanford was criminally charged in February with criminal sexual assault for forcing a 49-year-old patient to perform oral sex on him in the back of an ambulance on July 21, 2019.

One count alleged he forced her to perform the act while the other alleged she was unable to give knowing consent.

The woman testified she felt suicidal and was suffering a nervous breakdown when she called police for help early that day. Rantoul officers took her to their station, then summoned an ambulance to take her to OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center in Urbana.

Testimony in the first day of Sanford’s trial last month was that the woman recognized Sanford when she saw him at the police station as the person who had saved her life earlier when she overdosed on heroin. She gave him a brief hug there in the lobby.

It was on the ride from Rantoul to Urbana that the sex act occurred as she sat on a bench next to him.

The woman testified she held the semen from Sanford in her mouth all the way to the hospital, and even longer, until she was later transferred to Carle for a sex-assault evaluation, to prove her case.

She said a nurse at OSF declined to give her a cup to spit in, although the nurse taking care of her said she didn’t ask for one. The nurse said, however, that she could see the woman had something in her mouth.

When confronted on the day of the assault, Sanford told a Champaign County sheriff’s deputy it never happened. Months later, after his DNA had been identified in the semen taken from the woman’s mouth, he changed his story at least a couple of times.

First, he claimed he paid the woman for oral sex some 12 hours earlier.

Then, he changed his story again to say the act happened in the ambulance but that the woman initiated it.

Assistant State’s Attorney Kristin Alferink argued that Sanford was “completely unbelievable in almost everything he says.”

Had the act been consensual, she said, the woman would have had no reason to promptly report being raped as soon as Sanford was out of sight at OSF.

“She is so adamant, she keeps the evidence in her mouth for a very long time,” Alferink said.

Defense attorney Tony Bruno argued that the woman was repaying his client for saving her life earlier and that Sanford only made the situation worse by lying about it to police.

“He broke the rules of marriage and professional ethics and then lied about it. It doesn’t mean he committed these crimes,” Bruno said.

He argued there were inconsistencies in the woman’s testimony, including when she had first met Sanford, what she was wearing that day and what kind of beer she had consumed, that jeopardized her credibility.

He called it “inconceivable” that Sanford forced himself on the woman, noting that Sanford’s partner, who was driving the ambulance, heard nothing.

“Receiving fellatio in the back of an ambulance from a patient whose life you saved may be uncouth, but it’s not a crime,” Bruno argued.

Rosenbaum said the evidence was “uncontradicted” that the woman was having a nervous breakdown, that “her emotional state was delicate,” and that Sanford took advantage of that when he “chose this opportunity” in the ambulance.

The judge said the woman was the more credible witness.

“His story clearly changed multiple times and is completely inconsistent with the victim’s,” Rosenbaum said. “It would be illogical for her to perform sex for money while suicidal.”

If she voluntarily committed the act out of gratitude, why would she have held the evidence in her mouth and promptly reported being raped as soon as Sanford was out of her sight at the hospital, the judge asked.

Rosenbaum noted that the two were in a confined space, Sanford was larger than the woman, she thought he had a pistol even though it may have been a portable radio, and he pushed her head to his lap, all contributing to the element of force.

To support her request that Sanford be jailed while awaiting sentencing, Alferink told the judge that Rantoul police were investigating a report made to them last week by the granddaughter of a 93-year-old woman that Sanford may have been performing sex acts on her grandmother, who is unable to consent.

She said she intends to present evidence at sentencing from two other witnesses who reported inappropriate contact by Sanford in the past.

“I believe he’s dangerous,” the prosecutor said.

Bruno objected and said his client had shown up at all court hearings and was not a flight risk.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).

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