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Crime & Courts

Witnesses describe events before Sandwich shooting

Witnesses describe confrontation that led to 2017 Sandwich shooting

Carl R. Russell, 45, of Sandwich, listens to his lawyer, Brian Wright, as Wright addresses Chief Judge Robbin Stuckert during Russell's arraignment July 26, 2018, in DeKalb County court. Witnesses began testimony Tuesday.
Carl R. Russell, 45, of Sandwich, listens to his lawyer, Brian Wright, as Wright addresses Chief Judge Robbin Stuckert during Russell's arraignment July 26, 2018, in DeKalb County court. Witnesses began testimony Tuesday.

SYCAMORE – Eric Peterson of DeKalb told a DeKalb County jury Tuesday that he had no recollection of what happened the moment he was shot in the face.

On the first day of testimony from witnesses Tuesday, jurors in the trial of an attempted murder in Sandwich heard of an evening gone bad.

Peterson, 25, testified that he did remember parts of the evening of July 2, 2017. He went to a friend’s new home in Sandwich to help him and his fiancée move in. Areas of his life before that night are hazy, as well.

Prosecutors say the evening ended with Carl Russell, 45, who lived in the home next door, shooting Peterson in the face in the driveway at his friend’s home in the 1100 block of Lillian Lane. Prosecutors say Russell was enraged after Peterson had confronted him over Russell making a pass at his girlfriend that evening.

Russell’s trial on charges of attempted first-degree murder completed its second day on Tuesday, with witnesses describing a party where Russell was being inappropriate and asked to leave, before the confrontation between Russell and Peterson. Russell faces life in prison if convicted.

The attack left Peterson, a father of a 2-year-old girl, paralyzed on his left side. He now uses a motorized wheelchair and has a glass eye. His memories of the period are not very clear, he said.

When First Assistant State’s Attorney Stephanie Klein asked him if he lived with his girlfriend before, he responded “I think so.”

Peterson testified he remembered his girlfriend, Lorena Melendez, was upset with him for not sticking up for her when someone said things to her. He remembered getting up, going outside his friends’ home in the 1100 block of Lilian Lane and that’s it.

He didn’t remember anything Russell said, he testified.

Prosecutors used witness testimony to build the narrative of an evening that escalated out of control. Leading up to the shooting, witnesses described a day that began as four friends getting together to help move into a new home. Peterson and Melendez brought their infant daughter to the home, that Dallas Schroeder and Emma Belmore had moved into three days before. Schroeder and Belmore also had a new baby.

The home was part of a four-unit building, and Schroeder’s home shared a wall with Russell’s. The neighbors talked. Belmore testified that Russell invited Schroeder and Peterson over to look at his new carpet. Schroeder went over and got a tour of Russell’s home. At some point, Peterson had gone over, but was in the home alone.

Schroeder testified that on that tour, Russell showed him his guns, which he described as a shotgun, an AR, an AK and a sniper rifle.

As the evening wore on, Belmore and Melendez testified, that as they sat outside on the hood of Belmore’s car in the driveway, Russell began to make inappropriate comments to the girls and touching them. Russell said to Melendez, who was 20 at the time, that Mexican girls were his type and he had a Mexican girlfriend.

Melendez testified that when Peterson came outside, Russell said, “You don’t know the nasty things I would do to her if you weren’t here.”

Melendez said Peterson laughed along with Russell, and she told them both that it was inappropriate. Belmore said Melendez was “not at all happy.”

Belmore testified she brought Peterson and Melendez inside to resolve their fight and told Schroeder to send Russell home. She went to check on Schroeder, who was with Russell in front of Russell’s garage, and she testified she heard Russell say “I’m calling my boys right now.”

At one point in the evening, Schroeder testified, he was having a cigarette in the garage when he heard a knocking on the garage and someone he assumed was Russell saying to let him in, he just wanted to talk.

Witnesses testified that Schroeder called his cousin, Jared Imel, and he arrived with Imel’s friend, Ian Millz. As they arrived, Schroeder and Belmore left the home through the front door, while Peterson left through the garage and went next door to Russell’s garage.

About a minute after Imel and Millz arrived, multiple witnesses reported hearing what they thought was a firecracker, then looking and seeing Peterson on the ground, Russell standing over him.

Russell’s defense attorneys, Brian Wright and Regina Harris, asked each how long the witnesses interviews with police were (anywhere between five and 30 minutes), whether or not Sandwich police searched their home or vehicles (witnesses said they had not) and whether or not they had handed over phone or text records to the police (they had not).

The trial continued Wednesday.

Near mistrial

Before court began, Wright asked Judge Philip Montgomery for a mistrial due to a computer error.

On Monday night, an email was mistakenly sent out sent out to the jurors telling them they were not needed Tuesday. Thirteen of the 14 jurors reported receiving the email, with one saying he never checked his email. By 9 a.m. Tuesday, about half of the jurors were not present in the DeKalb County Courthouse.

After all of the jurors were contacted and they arrived in the courthouse, Montgomery and attorneys for the prosecution and the defense interviewed jurors individually, asking if they had done any research or read any coverage of the trial.

One juror said she had skimmed a Daily Chronicle article online, looking to see if the case had resulted in a plea bargain and that was why she was not supposed to come in. She also said she had mentioned it to her fellow jurors.

With the jury out of the room, Wright requested a mistrial because of the perception that there was already a resolution in the trial.

Montgomery denied the motion.

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