.Women recount details of the attacks but differ in ability to identify Pelo as attacker.
The final three victims to testify in Jeff Pelo’s rape trial on Tuesday recounted nearly identical details of their assaults but diverged in their abilities to identify Pelo as the attacker.
Each woman woke to find a masked man who rushed toward her and covered her mouth with his gloved hand, threatening to hurt or kill her if they didn’t comply with his orders. All the women were all bound with either ropes or duct tape.
Yet all three also pleaded with their attacker for leniency, and he complied. For one of the women, who is alleged to have been Pelo’s first assault victim in December 2002, that moment came when a length of twine was slipped around her neck and tightened.
"I freaked out," she said, noting the man in her apartment removed the cord at her request but introduced a new threat. He put a knife to her neck and demanded she remove her clothes.
"He told me he would cut my throat if I didn’t," the woman testified.
As with other victims who have testified at the trial, the assailant said he had been watching her. However, she couldn’t identify Pelo through photo or voice lineups offered by investigators.
The woman who prosecutors claim was Pelo’s second victim in April 2003 also couldn’t point to Pelo as her attacker in the lineups or on the stand Tuesday. She and the December 2002 victim said their rooms were too dark and the ski mask obscured too much of their attacker’s face.
The victim in April 2003 testified her attacker bound her hands behind her back with zip ties but cut off the restraints after constricting them until they were painfully tight. He then replaced the ties with duct tape and also taped closed her eyes and mouth.
As with the other two victims from January 2005, she was forced to run a bath and wash herself at the conclusion of the attack.
She feared a worse fate when she was first led into her bathroom.
"I started to panic," the woman told jurors. "I thought he was going to kill me."
Instead, the assailant reassured her he wasn’t going to hurt her, despite placing a gun on her chest earlier and warning her he would shoot if she screamed. She said that at some point in her ordeal, she "shut down."
"You hear what’s going on, but it’s almost like you don’t feel what’s happening," she said.
Unlike those two earlier victims, the woman who is alleged to have been Pelo’s third victim in early January 2005 — roughly 20 days before the final assault — unequivocally identified Pelo as her attacker Tuesday. She even used some terms virtually identical to those of the fourth victim to describe him.
Both she and the victim from later the same month called Pelo’s gait "lumbering" and "awkward" and pointed directly to Pelo in the courtroom when asked if they saw the man who attacked them.
The victim of the third attack also testified to what she believed were previous close calls with Pelo. She said she had seen someone on her front step late at night, and that a man barged into her apartment once before, then ran when he realized she was home.
The man who eventually attacked her confessed to watching her before the assault and said she had almost caught him a couple of times in the past. He also threatened her, the same as the others had been, but added a compliment the woman seemed loathe to repeat on the stand.
"He told me I was beautiful," she said.
Pelo’s trial on more than three dozen charges related to the four rapes from 2002 through 2005 and the stalking of a fifth woman in 2006 continues today. Testimony is expected from another woman Pelo allegedly stalked before the first 2002 attack.
Matt Buedel can be reached at (309) 686-3154 or firstname.lastname@example.org.