Highland News Leader

Judge hands setbacks to man representing self in child-grooming case

James Lopes
James Lopes

A judge handed a series of setbacks Thursday to a man whose videos promoting sex with children caused a stir in Madison County.

The defendant, James Lopes, is representing himself in his criminal case. Lopes, 40, faces multiple felony charges alleging that he attempted to solicit adults via the internet into having sex with children, and gave children cards imprinted with a website address that contained his teachings regarding sex between adults and children as a religious rite. He had posted a series of videos shot in local parks in which he detailed these beliefs.

He has been charged with three counts of grooming, a class 4 felony, in connection with the cards he handed out on April 23 and 24. He has also been charged with several counts of disorderly conducting and trespassing. The charges allege that he approached young girls and declared that he was on a “mini date” with one and asked a 7-year-old girl, “Hi princess, are you looking for your prince? I’m right here.”

Lopes, who is believed to be indigent, remained in custody Thursday at the Madison County Jail in lieu of $75,000 bail. He is being evaluated both for his ability to stand trial and on a petition to declare him a sexually dangerous person. If found to be sexually dangerous, Lopes would be committed to the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections for treatment for an indeterminate period of time.

Lopes had been the subject of much attention on social media in late April after he allegedly approached a young girl at the Collinsville VFW, and then approached a young girl in an Edwardsville store. Both times he was interviewed by police, but had not yet committed a crime, according to law enforcement officials. Later he allegedly became combative when asked to leave a Livingston business, and was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct.

Lopes has refused the services of the public defender’s office and insisted throughout his court appearance that “I am not mentally ill.” He appeared unshaven in jail uniform before Madison County Associate Judge Neil Schroeder on Thursday. He represented himself, still declining legal assistance.

Schroeder addressed a number of outstanding motions in Lopes’ case, and in most cases, he overruled Lopes’ objections and requests.

Lopes had filed several motions in his criminal case that actually pertained to the civil motion to declare him a sexually dangerous person. When Schroeder pointed out the error, Lopes withdrew several of the motions, and requested a jury trial.

Lopes requested a change of venue because of the extensive news coverage, which he said would prejudice a jury, and requested a private investigator at state expense to interrogate potential witnesses in places he visited during his time in Collinsville and Edwardsville.

“It’s needed to show there was no criminal activity,” he said. “I was looking to find people for my congregation, sharing the word and passing out my cards.”

I was looking to find people for my congregation, sharing the word and passing out my cards.

James Lopes, defendant, representing himself

Prosecutor Kathleen Nolan said the police had interviewed relevant witnesses and all information had been turned over to Lopes. Schroeder denied his request.

“My charges are for passing out cards, they have nothing to do with my church or beliefs,” Lopes said. He said because the police asked him about his church when they arrested him, he wants the police interviews suppressed.

Nolan argued that Lopes had failed to present any legal argument that the interviews should be suppressed, and his statements were relevant to whether he is sexually dangerous because they reflected his beliefs about sex between adults and children. Schroeder agreed, and denied the motion.

Lopes also argued that there has to be at least one sexual act in order to declare a person sexually dangerous, and no such act has been alleged.

“The state has no evidence regarding crimes, especially sexually dangerous crimes,” Lopes said. “There’s no registry of this defendant, no charges of sexual assault.” He said he has never been found to be a danger to himself or others.

The state has no evidence regarding crimes, especially sexually dangerous crimes. There’s no registry of this defendant, no charges of sexual assault.

James Lopes, defendant, representing himself

But Nolan disagreed, stating that the petition only requires that an offense is pending, not specifically a sexual offense. It requires that a person has a mental disorder that causes a propensity to commit the crimes, she said. There are previous charges of attempted sexual abuse, she said, and while they had been dismissed, they were still relevant to the case.

Schroeder denied the motion to dismiss as the court has not yet received the full psychological examination requested. “I appointed two doctors,” he told Lopes. “They should both come visit you and talk to you about this.” They will then report whether they believe Lopes is sexually dangerous, he said.

Schroeder held over Lopes’ request for street clothes to wear at trial rather than jail uniforms. He said he has worked with the public defender’s office in the past on similar requests, and will reconsider the request when the case is closer to trial.

Lopes’ series of motions allege “outrageous government conduct,” stating that he was harassed by law enforcement due to his religious beliefs. He calls for an investigation of the officers and witnesses.

“Defendant believes all had prior information and negative opinion of defendant before any contact was made,” he wrote. He also stated he believes the various witnesses against him were all friends or family of the police officers who interviewed or arrested him.

Schroeder said he could not require the prosecution to acquire copies of news reports for him; they can only turn over the evidence they have in hand. He said there are ways for Lopes to seek out evidence on his behalf, but he has chosen to represent himself while incarcerated.

“You don’t know the law, you’re not a lawyer, and you don’t have the experience or knowledge how to go about doing these things, and I’m not here to advise you,” Schroeder said. “You can always change your mind. I’m not saying you should; that’s your choice... But I want you to be clear that it is not a set-in-concrete decision.”

You don’t know the law, you’re not a lawyer, and you don’t have the experience or knowledge how to go about doing these things, and I’m not here to advise you.

Judge Neil Schroeder

Two evaluators have been named by the court to interview and evaluate Lopes on the basis of his mental state. He has already been evaluated for his fitness to make the decision whether or not to represent himself, but other information from that interview will be relevant to the pending actions, Nolan argued. Lopes objected, stating he felt it was irrelevant. Schroeder said he would hold it over for further thought.

Nolan said if Lopes is found sexually dangerous, he would remain incarcerated at a correctional facility that offers treatment specific to sex offenders until such time as he could prove he had safely reduced his risk enough to be released. “It’s essentially a lifetime commitment,” Nolan said, and thus it is a lengthy process. The criminal charges are on hold until that determination is made, she said.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald