A man accused of attempting to “groom” young girls in the metro-east last weekend has requested to represent himself in court.
James Lopes, 40, appeared before Madison County Associate Judge Jennifer Hightower Thursday morning via camera from the Madison County Jail. Lopes faces three felony charges of “grooming,” alleging that he passed out cards to young girls with the addresses of his online postings, as well as additional misdemeanor charges.
Lopes’ bail is set at $75,000, and he remained in custody Thursday morning at the Madison County Jail. He declared his address as “homeless,” and declared a wish to represent himself and proceed in court as his own lawyer.
John Rekowski is the lead public defender in Madison County. He said that unless Lopes decides to request defense or co-counsel, his office is not involved in Lopes’ case. “We are here to represent people who request our services, can’t afford an attorney and are facing jail time,” Rekowski said. “(Lopes) only meets two of those.”
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Rekowski said people choose to represent themselves only about once in every 300 cases. “It usually involves people who are mentally ill,” Rekowski said. “What sometimes happens is that if the court has a bona fide doubt as to their fitness, it can require them to be examined.”
If the court then finds that the defendant is unfit to assist in his own defense, then the public defender’s office would be appointed anyway, because the defendant’s waiver of counsel would be considered invalid.
“This is a guy who clearly raises an issue of fitness, but that’s for a judge to decide, not me,” Rekowski said. “These cases are usually long and complex, and given these circumstances, it probably won’t resolve itself any time soon.”
Lopes’ videos and documents posted online profess a belief in sex with young children as a religious rite, which unnerved many residents after he allegedly approached young children last weekend in Collinsville and Edwardsville. He was eventually arrested in Livingston on misdemeanor charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace. At that time, Hightower issued an order mandating a psychological evaluation to determine his fitness to stand trial.
The felony charges were issued Wednesday by the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office, which has also issued a petition to declare Lopes a sexually dangerous person. That finding would enable the Illinois Department of Corrections to hold him indefinitely in a psychiatric facility, according to the state’s attorney’s office.
On that issue, Rekowski said he had concerns. “I’m troubled by how this case has come about,” he said. “I’ve never been much on the sexually dangerous person or violently dangerous person petitions because they’re incarcerating people on things they haven’t done yet. They’re looking into a crystal ball and saying that they may do something.”
Rekowski said it basically amounts to preventative detention. “We will prevent him from committing a crime by keeping him locked up,” he said. “Under that theory, most people driving a car would be in jail.”
However, Rekowski said if Lopes is found unfit to stand trial, he will likely be found unfit for all purposes, including the sexually dangerous petition.
Lopes’ next court appearance is set for May 13.