Crime

Jury reaches verdict on whether man is sexually dangerous

Jury finds James Lopes sexually dangerous

Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons talks about the James Lopes case and how a jury found him sexually dangerous.
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Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons talks about the James Lopes case and how a jury found him sexually dangerous.

A Madison County jury took less than an hour to decide that James Lopes is sexually dangerous and should be incarcerated for public safety.

The jury turned in a decision in favor of the state’s attorney’s petition to declare Lopes a sexually dangerous person at 10:15 a.m. Thursday, 45 minutes after receiving the case. Lopes remained quiet and impassive upon hearing the verdict, though he indicated he intends to appeal.

Lopes represented himself in the civil action brought by the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office. There are also criminal felony charges pending on Lopes, which have been on hold pending the outcome of this trial.

Although it is a civil action and not a criminal charge, the motion to declare someone sexually dangerous requires a jury trial. As the jury ruled against him, Lopes will be committed to the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections in a facility designed for sex offender treatment, according to Assistant State’s Attorney Kathleen Nolan.

There will be a dispositional hearing at a later date, according to Madison County Associate Judge Neil Schroeder.

Lopes has remained in custody in lieu of $75,000 bail in the Madison County Jail since April 2016, when he allegedly approached several young girls with their parents nearby. After verdict, Schroeder revoked his bail.

Lopes unsettled many metro-east residents with a series of online videos shot in a Collinsville park, in which he promoted sexual relations with children as a religious rite. He has been charged with three counts of grooming, a Class 4 felony, regarding cards he allegedly handed out that directed people to his videos.

He has also been charged with several misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and trespass, alleging that he approached young girls, declared he was on a “mini-date” with one of them, and asked a 7-year-old girl, “Hi, princess, are you looking for your prince? I’m right here.” In his testimony during the trial, Lopes said that if a child is wearing the color green, it means they want to be flirted with and introduced to sexuality.

Lopes was found in possession of a thumb drive that included a folder titled “dolls,” all pictures of young girls wearing makeup and dressed up. When it was presented by Madison County Sheriff’s Lt. Kristopher Tharp, Lopes asked the officer, “They’re pretty, aren’t they?”

“They’re little girls,” Tharp replied.

Closing statements

Nolan began her closing statement Thursday with that quote. “They’re pretty, aren’t they,” she said. She quoted Lopes’ statement in his testimony Wednesday that he would marry a child “if it was natural” while protesting that he is not a pedophile.

“The Sexually Dangerous Persons Act was written for people like James Lopes,” Nolan said. She said he’s someone who has “a pervasive obsession” with young girls.

“This case began because so many people in Madison County were worried,” Nolan said. “They reported his behavior.”

(There is) the fundamental right of children to be free of predators like James Lopes. It doesn’t matter that he thinks it’s okay. It’s not. There is no church. There is no community. There are no groups of parents clamoring to have James Lopes take their daughters out on ‘mini-dates’ and introduce them to sexuality.

Assistant State’s Attorney Kathleen Nolan

In his closing statement, Lopes pointed out that he had not been convicted of a sex offense. He said he was being prosecuted because of his religious beliefs, in his self-founded “Rise Star Church.” Earlier in the trial he had attempted to read the 203-page foundation document he had written, but Schroeder ruled he could enter it into evidence but could not read it aloud.

Lopes repeated his belief that children should be introduced to sexuality at a young age and said that “society needs the example of a couple of an adult and a child.”

“If that is a mental illness, if that is a ‘propensity,’ there is no freedom of speech, there are no rights,” Lopes said. “You’d better keep your ideas at home and to yourself.”

Nolan, however, said the case is not about religion, and the First Amendment does not serve as a place for pedophiles to hide.

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental principle, but it is not without limits,” she said. “(There is) the fundamental right of children to be free of predators like James Lopes. It doesn’t matter that he thinks it’s okay. It’s not. There is no church. There is no community. There are no groups of parents clamoring to have James Lopes take their daughters out on ‘mini-dates’ and introduce them to sexuality.”

“Sexually dangerous persons” law

Under state law, there are five factors that are required to establish whether someone is sexually dangerous. He or she must: possess a mental disorder; that disorder has existed for more than a year; the disorder makes him or her likely to commit sex offenses; that he or she has committed some acts; and that it is probable he or she will commit more sexual offenses if he or she is not incarcerated.

Testimony on Wednesday by two psychologists indicated that they believe Lopes meets all those criteria. Two people from Oregon testified about a previous incident in which he allegedly approached a young girl and put his arm around her, asking her to take off her pants and unzipping his own pants. Lopes was incarcerated in Oregon, but was later released after the Oregon State Supreme Court ruled he could not be forcibly medicated.

Lopes confirmed during the trial that he did approach children in Portland, Ore., but said the children were “luring me for a sex offense,” at the behest of his ex-wife.

Nolan said it is “incredibly rare” to even file a petition to designate a person as sexually dangerous. “It’s a very specific set of circumstances that makes it the appropriate petition,” she said.

She said it is far more common to seek the designation of “sexually-violent person,” which requires that the person has been convicted of a felony sex offense. Six months before release, prisoners serving time for sex offenses are screened to determine whether they are likely to re-offend. Approximately 3 percent of those qualify as “sexually violent” and thus can be incarcerated.

“Sexually dangerous” is a designation far more rare, because it is for people who have not yet been convicted of a sex crime. “It’s rare that we caught someone before they did something,” Nolan said.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said he could not recall this kind of petition being successfully attempted since he began in the state’s attorney’s office in 1996.

There are felony charges of grooming and other misdemeanor charges pending against Lopes, but Nolan said as Class 4 felonies, they would have a maximum of one to three years in prison, and Lopes would have to register as a sex offender for only 10 years.

The felony charges remain on hold until the dispositional hearing. At that point, Gibbons said they may go forward, even though Lopes will be incarcerated indefinitely.

In order to be released, Lopes would have to demonstrate that his tendencies could be controlled in society. Nolan said given the testimony of the two psychologists, that is extremely unlikely: while there has been some success in treating and controlling pedophilia, she said Lopes’ diagnoses of delusional disorder and antisocial disorder make it unlikely that he could be successfully treated and released back into society.

Nolan described the incident in Oregon as an attempt, and while it is not known what Lopes might have done between his release in Oregon and appearance in Madison County, they do know he was arrested several times on disorderly conduct and other minor offenses, usually disappearing before the charge went to court.

Gibbons pointed out that in Madison County, Lopes approached families in grocery stores, gas stations, coffeehouses and the Collinsville VFW within a few days.

“When you look at the number of kids he approached in a short period of time... Those are the ones we know of,” he said. “There were people who didn’t know what to do about it until we could reach out to them through the media and ask them to call us... How many attempts has he made? How many kids has he approached?”

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

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