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Hobbs v. Cappelluti

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 28, 2012

Jerry HOBBS, Plaintiff,
Domenic CAPPELLUTI, Charles Schletz, and William Valko, of the Waukegan Police Department; City of Waukegan; Andrew Jones, of the Vernon Hills Police Department; Village of Vernon Hills; Kevin Harris of the Zion Police Department; City of Zion; Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller; Assistant Lake County State's Attorney Jeff Pavletic; Assistant Lake County State's Attorney Michael Mermel; County of Lake and Unknown Police Officer, Defendants.

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Kathleen T. Zellner, Douglas Henry Johnson, Kathleen T. Zellner & Associates, P.C., Downers Grove, IL, Anne Zellner Nolte, Kathleen T. Zellner & Associates, P.C., Oak Brook, IL, for Plaintiff.

Thomas George Dicianni, Ellen Kornichuk Emery, Pedro Fregoso, Jr., Ancel, Glink, Diamond, Bush, Dicianni & Krafthefer, P.C., Chicago, IL, Michael E. Kujawa, William Charles Barasha, Judge, James & Kujawa, Ltd., Park Ridge, IL, William W. Kurnik, Amanda Marie Hillmann, Knight, Hoppe, Kurnik & Knight LLC, Rosemont, IL, Clifford Gary Kosoff, Julie Ann Hofherr Bruch, O'Halloran, Kosoff, Helander & Geitner, P.C., Benjamin Matthew Jacobi, Bhairav Radia, O'Halloran Kosoff Geitner & Cook, LLC, Northbrook, IL, for Defendants.



On May 9, 2005, plaintiff Jerry Hobbs realized every parent's worst nightmare when he discovered the bodies of his young daughter, Laura, and her friend, Krystal Tobias, in the park by their house. Laura had been sexually assaulted and both girls had been brutally murdered. Hobbs's nightmare did not end there, however. Police quickly identified him as a suspect and, after interrogating him for 24 hours, coerced him into falsely confessing. This confession was then used to detain him on murder charges for over five years until he was exonerated by DNA evidence and eventually released.

Shortly thereafter, Hobbs filed the present action under 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1983 and 1985 against the police officers who investigated and interrogated him (defendants Domenic Cappelluti, Charles Schletz, William Valko, Kevin Harris and Andrew Jones, (collectively " defendant officers" )),

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the municipalities that employed them (the Cities of Waukegan and Zion and the Village of Vernon Hills), the state's attorneys who prosecuted him (Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller and Assistant Lake County State's Attorney's Jeff Pavletic and Michael Mermel (collectively " defendant prosecutors," collectively with defendant officers " defendants" )),[1] and the county that employed them (Lake County) (collectively with Waukegan, Zion and Vernon Hills " municipal defendants" ). In his third amended complaint, Hobbs alleges multiple claims of police and prosecutorial misconduct under both state and federal law. (Dkt. # 94.) Presently before the court are motions to dismiss by defendant officers (dkt. # 98 # 106), defendant prosecutors (dkt. # 100) and municipal defendants (dkt. # 103, # 106, # 107, # 109, # 111). For the reasons set forth herein, these motions will be granted in part and denied in part. [2]


On Sunday, May 8, 2005, eight-year-old Laura Hobbs went missing. At the time, her father Jerry Hobbs (" Hobbs" ) was living in Zion, Illinois with Laura's mother, Sheila, and their children Jerry, Jr. (age 10), Laura (age 8), and Jeremy (age 6), and Meagan (age 13) (Sheila's child from a previous relationship). Laura had gone outside to play and was supposed to return by dark. When she did not, Hobbs and several family members began searching for her. They soon learned that Laura's friend, Krystal (age 9), was also missing. Not finding Laura that night, Hobbs continued the search the next morning with the help of his family and the police.

The next day Hobbs resumed his search in nearby Beulah Park where children often played. There, in a grassy, open area, Hobbs discovered the bodies of Laura and Krystal. Both were lying face up about two or three feet apart. Laura had been stabbed twenty times, including in both eyes; Krystal had been stabbed eleven. Four years later, DNA evidence would reveal that Laura had also been sexually assaulted, although this fact was unknown to Hobbs at the time.


The murder investigation was handled by the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force (the " task force" ), which included officers from the Cities of Waukegan and Zion, the Village of Vernon Hills and members of the Lake County State's Attorney's Office. Defendant officers and defendant prosecutors were all members of the task force. Shortly after discovering the bodies, Hobbs was taken to the Waukegan Police Department and was placed in a small, windowless room with no clock. Over the next 24 hours, he was interrogated approximately ten times. He was never told that he was under arrest or that he was free to leave. Defendant officers proceeded on the theory that Hobbs lost his temper when disciplining Laura and, as a result, murdered both her and Krystal. During his interrogation, Hobbs alleges that defendant officers took the following actions:

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• Schletz and Harris entered the room and Schletz told Hobbs to sign a form that he described as " nothing really ... [it] just said [that Hobbs] was agreeing to let [the officers] ask [him] questions." Hobbs signed the form, a Miranda waiver, without reading it, and Schletz did not read it to him.
• Officers Schletz began to interrogate Hobbs about the crime, reviewing each gruesome fact in detail. Schletz forced Hobbs to view pictures of the girls' mutilated bodies. When Hobbs refused Schletz grabbed his head and knocked him to the floor. Schletz taunted Hobbs, making obscene suggestions like " How did their neck feel when you cut it?" Schletz and Harris told Hobbs that his alibi of being at home could not be verified and Schletz sad that physical evidence linked him to the crime.
• Hobbs repeatedly asked for a lawyer but his requests were ignored. Hobbs became so exhausted that each time the officers left the room, he tried to rest by lying on the floor. Schletz and Harris told Hobbs he could go home if he passed a voice stress analysis test, which they falsely said could determine whether Hobbs was lying. After completing the test four times, Hobbs was falsely informed that he had failed and that the tests conclusively showed he was lying. Schletz then suggested that Hobbs grab his gun so Schletz would have a justification for killing him.
• Cappelluti said that the fact that Hobbs discovered the bodies was " like winning the lottery," accusing Hobbs of committing the murders because he had found the victims. Cappelluti asked Hobbs if he believed in God and the two men prayed together for Laura. Hobbs cried. Cappelluti lied and said that there was an eyewitness who placed Hobbs at the crime scene.
• Schletz and Harris took Hobbs into a large room with a camera and told him that a light test would reveal evidence on his person. Officer Valko, the direct supervisor of Schletz, Harris and Cappellutti, was also present. The lights were turned out and shined on Hobbs's clothes revealing a mark on his pant leg. Hobbs responded that he had wiped his nose there when he was crying. Schletz and Harris then made Hobbs remove his clothes and put on a see-through paper suit, which he was forced to wear for part of his interrogation. The officers took Hobbs's clothes, telling him that a special camera would reveal evidence on his clothing that showed he was guilty.
• Back in the interrogation room, Hobbs was told that his family had not inquired about him, and that " everybody [the police] talked to, including [Hobbs's] family, thinks [he] did it." Cappelluti told Hobbs that there was an officer just outside the room who was not happy about what happened to the girls and whom Hobbs would not want to come into the room. When Hobbs again refused to confess, Cappellutti and Schletz left the room and Cappellutti said, " I warned you."
• Officer Jones, an extremely large man, entered the room alone and began interrogating Hobbs. When Hobbs again denied committing the crime, Jones punched him in the side of his head, slamming his head into the wall. Jones threatened that if Hobbs responded to being hit, that

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Jones would kill him and make up a story that Hobbs had tried to seize his gun. As Jones turned to leave he threatened, " Don't make me have to come back in here." Officer Valko was present during Hobbs's interrogation and approved these tactics and others used by Schletz, Harris, Cappelluti and Jones.
• After officer Jones left, Schletz and Cappelluti resumed the interrogation and demanded that Hobbs confess. Hobbs replied that they did not want to hear the truth that he did not commit the crimes, to which Schletz replied, " Well then tell us some lies Jerry."

At this point, Hobbs had been in custody for at least 24 hours and had not slept in the last 48 hours. He had no idea what time it was, whether it was day or night, and he had not been allowed to leave the police station or to speak with a lawyer. He had been stripped of his clothes and forced to sit almost naked as defendant officers forced him to examine gruesome photographs of his daughter and her friend, accusing him of their murders. He had been physically assaulted and threatened with additional violence, all after enduring the most traumatic event of his life, discovering his daughter's mutilated body. His will was finally overborne.


Hobbs told defendant officers he would confess and that they should take him to a judge, thinking that a judge would see that his confession was forced. Schletz and Cappelluti devised a story that Hobbs went looking for the girls, trying to get Laura to come home, and when he found them Krystal attacked him, causing him to lose control and kill them both. Schletz asked Hobbs about the knife and Hobbs replied that Krystal had attacked him with a potato peeler, thinking a judge would realize that a potato peeler could not have inflicted those types of wounds on the girls.

Jones then reentered the room, sitting close to Hobbs to physically intimidate him. Schletz demanded that Hobbs write the confession on paper. When Hobbs refused, Schletz said he would type it. Cappellutti told Hobbs to write an apology to his and Krystals' families but Hobbs refused. Cappellutti then threatened to have Jones and Schletz return. Schletz and Jones entered the room, and Scheltz put the statement he had typed in front of Hobbs, ordering him to sign it. Feeling intimidated by the threat of physical violence from Jones, Hobbs signed the paper.

After signing the confession, Hobbs was given a county jail uniform to wear instead of the paper suit. Schletz and Harris escorted Hobbs to a car, which transported him and several officers to Beulah Park. Schletz and Harris told Hobbs to show them where the knife was, and Hobbs walked down the trail to show them where he found the girls. The officers again insisted Hobbs show them where the knife was and Hobbs said that there was no knife and he did not kill the girls. Jones then took Hobbs back to the car and began punching him in the side.

At 8:40 a.m. on May 10, 2005, defendant prosecutors Waller and Pavletic met with members of the task force to review the facts of the case and received all the details of Hobbs's interrogation. Defendant officers told Waller and Pavletic they did not have any notes, audiotape or videotape of Hobbs's confession. Waller and Pavletic needed to obtain evidence that the confession was voluntary, and they knew that the written confession had been coerced. Over the next few hours they coached and prepared defendant officers to obtain a video confession from Hobbs by threatening to charge Sheila, the mother of his children.

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Defendant officers then brought Hobbs into a larger room where he was placed in front of a camera and ordered to read his confession. When Hobbs refused, Jones punched him in the head. Jones told Harris to go get Sheila because they were going to charge her as well. Hobbs agreed to read the statement, fearing that Sheila would be arrested if he did not.

In the first videotape, Hobbs called the typed statement a " bunch of lies." This video was reset to erase Hobbs's comment. Hobbs then read the statement a second time. After completing the video, Hobbs again told Schletz that the confession was " lies." Schletz responded that Hobbs would surely receive the death penalty. Waller and Pavletic watched and listened to both videotaped statements and knew that Hobbs had been threatened and punched in the first videotape. Defendant prosecutors did not disclose the existence of the first videotape to Hobbs's counsel during his prosecution.

Hobbs was arrested at 4:30 p.m. on May 10, 2005 after reading his videotaped confession. Hobbs was read his Miranda rights only after giving his false confessions. Defendant officers worked individually and together to prepare false reports, stating that Hobbs's confession was voluntary. They destroyed notes from their investigation and interrogation of Hobbs. A few hours after the videotaping, a jail guard overheard a conversation between Schletz and Hobbs where Hobbs denied killing the girls and told Schletz that he did not know the location of the knife. The guard later wrote a report stating that Hobbs " said that officers told him to lie so he lied to them about what had taken place."

Criminal Proceedings

Hobbs was charged with the murders of Laura and Krystal. A bond hearing took place on May 11, 2005. Based on his confession, Hobbs was denied bond and detained in Lake County Jail. Defendant Waller notified the state of his intent to seek the death penalty. No other evidence except Hobbs's confession implicated him in the crime.

During his incarceration, Hobbs was kept in isolation. He was never given a cell mate or permitted to interact with other inmates. An internal jail memo dated May 18, 2005, instructed officers to keep Hobbs in isolation due to the high profile nature of his case and the desire to keep him away from lawyers. Hobbs was also prevented from accessing the law library and other legal material relevant to his case. Additionally, as a result of his incarceration, Hobbs was unable to attend his daughter's funeral and was not listed in her obituary. He later learned, however, that the real killer had been allowed to attend.

Motion to Suppress

In late August 2006, the court held a hearing on Hobbs's motion to suppress his confession. Officers Schletz, Harris, and Cappelluti all testified that the confession was voluntary and that Hobbs never requested a lawyer. Hobbs was too afraid and intimidated by Jones's threat to kill him during the interrogation that he did not testify at his suppression hearing. Hobbs's lawyer, Keith Grant, was also intimidated by Assistant State's Attorney Mermel, and advised Hobbs that it was unsafe for him to testify.

DNA Evidence

During the autopsies of Laura and Krystal, the medical examiner took vaginal, rectal and oral swabs to preserve potential DNA evidence. These swabs were tested at the Northeastern Illinois Regional Crime Laboratory, which took direction from the Lake County State's Attorney's Office and defendant officers. The lab technicians were told which, if any, tests to perform for the purpose of corroboration

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and which tests not to perform. Hobbs's defense requested to have its own forensic expert present for the testing, and the prosecution made misrepresentations to the court, stating that the lab would have to shut down and no other tests could occur because of confidentiality and contamination concerns. The Lake County State's Attorney's Office directed the lab not to speak with Hobbs's lawyer, and significantly, defendants did not request any DNA testing on the vaginal, oral and rectal swabs. The only examination done by the lab was a microscopic one, which failed to reveal the presence of spermatozoa.

At some point during Hobbs's detention and upon a motion from his lawyer, the court ordered that the swabs taken from Laura and Krystal be delivered to the Serological Research Institute (SERI) for forensic testing. On August 29, 2007, SERI reported that there were spermatozoa and semen on the vaginal, rectal and oral swabs taken from Laura and spermatozoa on the skirt she was wearing at the time of the murder. There was also biological material from an unknown male on swabs taken from Laura's hands. Hobbs was excluded as the source of the semen, spermatozoa, and biological material and a single male was determined to be the source of all of the material.

Motion for Review of Bond

On November 12, 2008, Hobbs's attorneys moved for a review of his bond on the basis of the DNA findings. The court conducted a hearing on December 2, 2008, but the court denied the motion. Mermel falsely told the court that the DNA evidence showed " one errant sperm which is impossible to deposit by the offender." He also stated that the biological material " doesn't have the underlying P30 base substrate that would be left with an offender, a killer, leaving his sperm on her." This was false; all of the swabs tested positive for the P30 substrate, which is found in seminal fluid. In addition, Mermel stated to the Chicago Tribune that " none of the sperm they found was in [a] significant place," and at one point said that the semen found inside Laura and on her clothes was the result of her playing around the crime scene, a place where couples go to have sex. At no time did defendant officers take any steps to reveal that Hobbs's confession, the sole evidence of his guilt, was false. Defendant prosecutors refused to dismiss the charges against Hobbs even though there was no physical evidence linking him to the murders. Despite the fact that the DNA evidence implicated another, Hobbs remained in custody for three more years.

Hobbs's Release

On June 24, 2010, a search of the national offender databases revealed a match between the DNA profile found on Laura and the DNA profile of Jorge Torrez, a former resident of Zion and a friend of Krystal's brother. Torrez's profile was on the national offender database because he had been arrested and charged with various sexual offenses in the Commonwealth of Virginia.[4] Based on this match, on August 4, 2010, the Lake County State's Attorney's office nolle prosequi [5] the charges against Hobbs and he was released after spending 1,912 days in jail.

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After Hobbs's release, Lake County State's Attorney Waller told the press that " he was not convinced that Hobbs didn't have a role in the killings" but that " he didn't believe that the case could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt." He stated that Hobbs had previously taken police to Beulah Park where he " threw the murder weapon" and stated that there could have been sexual contact beforehand, raising doubt as the exonerating power of the DNA evidence. Finally, he stated he had studied the case and " [he didn't] believe that law enforcement did anything wrong." Eight months after the termination of ...

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