SYCAMORE – What police and prosecutors say was a burglary at a townhouse was actually a case of college students looking for a friend to hang out with on a slow night, lawyers said Monday in the opening of the trial of a former NIU football player.
Police say William Ikegwuonu, 22, who is on trial, and another man broke into the townhouse, in the 800 block of Fotis Drive, early on Nov. 26, 2006, and were caught there by a tenant.
But Ikegwuonu's lawyer, Frank Martinez, told jurors on Monday that his client was bored on a Friday night and early Saturday morning and went to the townhouse looking for a friend of a friend. When a tenant burst into the house, shouting at the apparent intruders, Ikegwuonu panicked and ran away, lawyers said. Martinez says Ikegwuonu was looking for Baba's roommate.
Martinez told jurors they would hear testimony that the alleged victim in the case has come to understand that what looked like a burglary was just a misunderstanding.
"There was no intent to steal – only an intent to find a party," Martinez told jurors Monday.
Townhouse tenant Safiyan "Matt" Baba testified Monday that he and Ikegwuonu became friends after Ikegwuonu was charged.
Prosecutors, though, say Ikegwuonu admitted to police that he was an intruder in the house and that, once inside, he looked around to see whether there was "anything good" inside.
Prosecutors say Ikegwuonu and another man got into the townhouse through an unlocked back patio door and might have been in the middle of taking an Xbox video game player when they were caught by Baba.
Baba testified Monday he left work at a bar around 2 a.m. on Nov. 26, 2006, and was visiting with a friend who lived directly behind his townhouse when he saw that the patio door at his house was cracked open. Baba went home, saw two men inside and shouted at them to get out of his house.
When the two took off running, Baba chased after them. One man got away, but Baba chased another one to a friend's house, where he said the apparent intruder ran inside. Baba then called police, who found a pair of sneakers along the path of the chase. Prosecutors say the sneakers belong to Ikegwuonu, who they say was running so fast from the house that he literally ran out of his shoes.
Baba also testified that nothing was taken from the house, but that an Xbox video game player had been unplugged and might have been moved from the place he left it before he went to work that night. He testified he heard one of the intruders drop something on the floor when he confronted them, but that it was too dark inside to see what had been dropped.
If convicted of the charge of residential burglary, Ikegwuonu could be sentenced to as little as a term of probation or as much as 15 years in prison.
The trial, in front of Judge Robbin Stuckert, is scheduled to continue this morning in DeKalb County court. Lawyers indicated during jury selection that the trial could last a couple of days. And Martinez, in his opening statement, suggested Ikegwuonu could testify in his own defense.
Ikegwuonu was a reserve strong safety for the NIU football team in 2006, but he was suspended from the team after his arrest in this case.