SYCAMORE – Jurors deliberated for about 2 hours Wednesday before deciding a 55-year-old former Sycamore man should not be released from a prison program for sex offenders.
James Walls has been in a secured facility for about 11 years after allegations surfaced in 1998 that he had sexually abused a female family member from the time she was 4 until she was 11 or 12. He had been convicted in 1993 of sexually abusing a 10-year-old girl who was not a family member, but Walls was committed as a sexually dangerous person rather than facing criminal charges in the later case.
Jurors were asked to determine if Walls is a pedophile who has abused girls in the past and who likely will abuse more children if released.
Prosecutors from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office had to prove their case by clear and convincing evidence, which is a lesser burden than that used in criminal cases. During closing arguments Wednesday, Assistant Illinois Attorney General Joelle Marasco pointed to the pattern of repeated offenses in Walls’ past to show that he had a propensity to commit sex crimes against children.
In 1992, a 10-year-old girl awoke at a sleepover at Walls’ house to find his penis in her hand, Marasco said. After he was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual abuse for that incident, Walls returned to that house and continued abusing a different girl, ultimately videotaping some encounters with her, Marasco said.
“It’s not just the pedophilia, it’s the way it has unfolded in this respondent’s life,” Marasco said. Meanwhile, defense attorney Jack Slingerland emphasized that Walls’ original commitment largely was based on the allegations posed by the female family member, who was 16 when she reported them to police.
She told authorities Walls forced her perform oral sex about once a week while her mother was out shopping, but couldn’t remember specific timeframes, Slingerland said. She also claimed she had told her mother of the abuse a few years earlier but her mother did not take any action, he said.
But Assistant Attorney General Debra Blomgren emphasized that police removed 23 bags of evidence from Walls’ house in connection with the 1998 case. The girl also had told a friend and two boyfriends before reporting the abuse to police, but the girl – not Walls – was the victim, Blomgren said.
“To point to the victim and say she should have done something at 4, 5, 6,” Blomgren said.
Slingerland also argued that Walls had performed well in group treatment in prison. The sexually dangerous persons program has about 160 inmates, 30 whom do not participate in treatment. Walls regularly attends sessions and completes assignments but scores poorly on some evaluations because he denies the abuse, Slingerland said.
“He’s done what the government has asked him to do except for one thing: He won’t admit it,” Slingerland said.
But, Marasco said, pedophilia is a condition that requires continued treatment and management. “You can’t ignore a problem and hope it goes away,” she said. “And that’s essentially the respondent’s theory in this case.”