URBANA — After 13 hours of deliberation over two days, a clearly stressed Champaign County jury returned one verdict but could not agree on a second in the case against a Rantoul man accused of sexually molesting a 6-year-old girl last year.
In a case devoid of physical evidence and based primarily on the credibility of the victim versus the defendant, the jury acquitted Carlos Ramirez-Lopez of one count of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child but hung on a second count that alleged a different kind of sex act.
The mixed verdicts against Ramirez-Lopez, 26, whose last known address was in the 700 block of East Congress Avenue, came about 1:30 p.m. Friday.
The jury deliberated about 10 hours Thursday, went home for the night, then returned Friday morning. During their Thursday session, jurors asked Judge Heidi Ladd to see again the recorded statement that the alleged victim gave to a forensic interviewer at the Children’s Advocacy Center. Later, they asked to hear her testimony from the witness stand replayed.
Ladd allowed both of their requests.
Ramirez-Lopez was charged in December, about three weeks after the child revealed to her mother what allegedly took place in their home not long before.
A day later, Dec. 6, she told two women at her Rantoul elementary school the same story: that Ramirez-Lopez had done something “nasty” to her on two different occasions in the recent past.
Testifying in his own defense through a Spanish translator, Ramirez-Lopez denied the allegations, saying he was fond of the child and her siblings.
When confronted with the allegations by the child’s mother, Ramirez-Lopez told the mother that the child needed professional help for mental issues.
“She was consistent as a 6-year-old can be in explaining things she doesn’t understand, very adult things,” Assistant State’s Attorney Bridget Schott argued on Thursday.
But Public Defender Janie Miller-Jones vehemently disagreed.
“A lot of people are shocked to learn a person can be convicted of a crime on words alone,” she argued. “Shouldn’t those words at least be consistent?”
The child testified Tuesday afternoon, the first of six prosecution witnesses. She answered questions from Schott and Miller-Jones mostly with one-word responses as she fixated on a fidget spinner she played with while on the stand for about 40 minutes.
Ladd cleared the courtroom of spectators while the girl testified, but with the jury and court personnel, there were still about two dozen people with eyes on her.
Other witnesses included her mother, a social worker and a teacher from her school, forensic interviewer Mary Bunyard of the Children’s Advocacy Center and a Rantoul police investigator.
The girl’s mother said on Dec. 5, when her daughter told her what Ramirez-Lopez had allegedly done, her response was to ask her daughter if she was sure. The mother did not immediately notify authorities but did confront Ramirez-Lopez.
The next day, while having lunch with a social worker at her school, the child told that woman what happened, prompting the social worker, a mandated abuse reporter, to call the Department of Children and Family Services. As school was about to let out that day, the child also told her teacher what she had told the social worker.
On Dec. 13, the child was interviewed by Bunyard.
“She answered any kind of question I asked with very short answers. She basically stayed the same way throughout” the interview, Bunyard testified. “She was consistent in how she answered questions, just one- or two-word answers.”
Bunyard said the girl used childlike terms to describe various body parts but circled the applicable parts on diagrams that correlated with what she was describing.
Bunyard said the child told her of two instances it happened, but when she testified, under questioning by Miller-Jones, she held up both hands in front of her, indicating it happened 10 times.
At one point in her soft-spoken testimony, she said, “I better get a Snickers for this,” explaining that her grandmother told her if she got through the trial, she would be rewarded with a candy bar.
“I don’t know why (the girl) made up these accusations,” Miller-Jones argued.
She said it could have been because her grandmother didn’t like Ramirez-Lopez or because he occasionally disciplined the child and she wanted to get back at him. She also noted that the mother didn’t immediately call police.
“Clearly, she had doubt about it,” Miller-Jones said.
In rebuttal, Schott said neither the child nor her mother had motive to lie and that the mother was not on trial. Ramirez-Lopez’s response to the mother about getting the child help was his way of “taking the blame off him and putting it on her,” Schott argued.
“It doesn’t happen in front of witnesses, on surveillance video. He doesn’t leave physical scars. There’s no pictures of the abuse, but it happened,” she said.
Ladd continued Ramirez-Lopez’s case to July 23.
Schott said she will prepare for a retrial.