One of the four women former Bloomington police Sgt. Jeff Pelo is accused of raping described her two-hour ordeal.
Muffled sobs emanated from the gallery during former Bloomington police Sgt. Jeff Pelo’s rape trial Thursday as his first alleged victim recounted a two-hour ordeal in which she was repeatedly assaulted at gunpoint.
The victim, now 31, was calm and assertive while describing how she awoke around 2:45 a.m. Jan. 26. 2005, to find a man with his face covered by a hood and scarf rushing toward her and choking her to keep her from screaming.
She maintained that demeanor even as she recalled the handgun being held to her head and the acts her attacker demanded she perform. He knew where her parents lived and threatened to "slaughter" them if she reported the attack to police.
But it was when the woman detailed a personal exchange with the intruder that she exhibited her only breakdown in more than two hours in the witness box. She stopped the man at one point to reveal that she learned she was pregnant only four days before the attack.
The man, whom she identified as Pelo with "100 percent" certainty, wanted to know whether she and her fiancé were excited. Then he wanted to know if she’d keep the child after she was raped.
"He was elated, like a little kid at Christmas," she said in a wavering voice. "He was overjoyed that all those other people were going to be violated as well."
Spectators in the gallery, a majority of them relatives of the victim, put their hands over their mouths to quiet their crying.
The victim said Pelo left her in her bathroom with the lights off and water running after forcing her to bathe. He hid all the phones in her apartment. She waited in the dark bathroom for close to three hours before hearing her neighbor in an adjacent apartment and emerging.
The victim’s roommate and another tenant in the same apartment complex on Bloomington’s east side also testified Thursday to activity allegedly linked to Pelo that predated the January 2005 attack by months.
The roommate said someone removed the screens from her open windows while she slept early on the morning of Oct. 13, 2004. A tenant in a different building within the complex said she found a man who appeared to be Pelo crouching outside her bedroom window in December 2004.
That tenant, Leah Rustemeyer, said her dog woke her up around 3 a.m. Dec. 4, 2004, when it growled at the bedroom window and paced.
She thought the dog needed to go outside and found a man prying at her bedroom window when she rounded the corner of the building.
Rustemeyer later identified the man as Pelo in a photo array police showed her in July 2006, and she pointed to Pelo in the courtroom Thursday as the man she saw that night. Pelo does not face charges for that incident.
"He was bent over at my bedroom window, messing with it," she testified.
Perhaps the most dramatic testimony Thursday, however, came from Pelo himself.
Prosecutors played a 55-minute portion of Pelo’s interrogation recorded hours after he had been found outside the home of Jonelle Penn-Galuska on June 10, 2006. Bloomington Detective Sgt. Larry Shepherd conducted the interview that preceded Pelo’s initial arrest on attempted burglary and stalking charges.
Pelo became more agitated and distressed as Shepherd urged him to reconsider his story that he had been house hunting for his mother-in-law in the middle of the night when he was found outside Penn-Galuska’s home.
"I am thinking about what I’m telling you — the truth," Pelo responded at one point. "I don’t lead a sinister life of some kind."
Pelo frequently waved his arms around while explaining himself and slapped his hands on his knees or chair to emphasize his statements, repeating over and over again, "It wasn’t me."
One month after that arrest, Pelo, now 43, was charged in a 35-count indictment with four rapes that started in 2002 and ended in 2005 with the victim who closed testimony Thursday. Proceedings will not be held on Fridays for the duration of the trial, which resumes Tuesday.
Matt Buedel can be reached at (309) 686-3154 or firstname.lastname@example.org.