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Crime & Courts

Prosecutors make case to allow victims' statements in Hannon case

Joseph Hannon looks at Public Defender Chip Criswell inside Judge Phillip Montgomery's courtroom Wednesday at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore.
Joseph Hannon looks at Public Defender Chip Criswell inside Judge Phillip Montgomery's courtroom Wednesday at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore.

SYCAMORE – Family members of two children prosecutors said were sexually abused by a gymnastics instructor earlier this year fought back tears while testifying in DeKalb County Court on Wednesday, as prosecutors argued that the childrens' statements made in specialized interviews should be heard at trial.

Joseph R. Hannon, 22, formerly of the 1700 block of DeKalb Avenue, has been charged with predatory criminal sexual assault of a child involving more than one victim. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Prosecutors said there are six child victims in the case, all of them girls younger than 13 who took classes at a Energym in Sycamore, where Hannon worked as an instructor. 

Two women described conversations they had with children in their respective families after they learned that Hannon had been arrested Dec. 7, 2016, Hannon initially was charged with criminal sexual abuse in connection with an incident where police said he inappropriately touched a 9-year-old girl as she drank from a water fountain Nov. 25. 2016, at Energym in Sycamore.

Prosecutors filed additional charges as more families came forward and investigators conducted more victim-sensitive interviews, the last being filed in February.

Hannon sat next to Public Defender Chip Criswell during Wednesday’s hearing and shook his head in frustration while listening to two women testify in front of Judge Phil Montgomery. 

The first woman recounted how one of the victims told her in February about a "game" that she and Hannon would play alone in a room that involved the girl touching Hannon inappropriately. She said the girl told her this occurred at least 10 times.

Another woman said the victim she knew, an 11-year-old girl, told her a few weeks before Thanksgiving 2016 that she had been touched inappropriately by Hannon while he would spot her as she practiced flips at the gym.

“I told her to stay away from him and not have him spot her anymore,” she said.

The woman said she told her story to police the day after Hannon's initial arrest.

“A lot of times when children are concerned about them being abused, we set up victim-sensitive interviews at the Family Service Agency,” Assistant State’s Attorney Alicia Caplan said. “They’re conducted by trained interviewers, and they are to allow children to make disclosure in their own words.” 

Caplan said the victim-sensitive interviews in this case were conducted by two counselors from the Children’s Advocacy Center. Caplan said she hopes to have one of the interviewers in court during the next hearing, but told Montgomery that the other interviewer has moved to Arizona. 

Criswell argued that both interviewers should be in attendance at the next hearing and Montgomery agreed, pointing out the severity of the charges against Hannon. Caplan suggested bringing in a similar interviewer who is trained in the same protocol. 

“I don’t think (Criswell) is without any means of discrediting the questions, and they’re available for the court to see the answers (the victims) give," Caplan said. "It isn’t going to change the question that was asked and the answer that was given based on the question.”

Montgomery is to decide whether to admit statements the victims made to family members and the statements made on video to the interviewers when the case is next in court at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 8.  

Hannon has been jailed since he was first arrested, and his bond has increased to $2.25 million as more victims were identified. Criswell has said his client can not post anywhere near the $225,000 bail required to be released.

Hannon was on felony probation for an October 2013 drug case when he was hired at Energym in September 2015. Energym owner Andy Morreale has said Energym did not conduct a background check on Hannon before he was hired, but that he had a long-standing relationship with Energym, first as a student and later a part-time student instructor before being hired full-time.

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