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Arlington Heights sex assault case involving 97-year-old woman goes to jury

After three days of testimony, jury deliberations began Thursday in the case of a Mount Prospect man charged with sexually assaulting a 97-year-old woman nearly two years ago in her Arlington Heights home. Prosecutors say Frank Mendez, 53, broke into the woman’s first-floor apartment in an assisted living and retirement community on Aug. 20, 2015, struck her and sexually assaulted her before fleeing when a security guard responded to the woman’s medical alert. During his closing argument, Cook County assistant state’s attorney Edward Maloney referenced evidence linking Mendez to the scene. That evidence included Mendez’s finger and palm prints found in the apartment and traces of his DNA taken from the neck and arm of the woman, who suffered bruises to her face and neck, and skin tears on her left arm. She has since died.

“Every life has value. Every person has dignity and every person should feel safe in his or her home,” Maloney said. “She was a vibrant, well-cared-for woman until she met him (Mendez).”

Maloney reminded jurors of statements the woman made to security guard Louis Sauceda and to an emergency room nurse at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. Sauceda found the woman in her dark apartment, moaning and unclothed in her bathroom after he responded to her medical alert. Sauceda testified she told him a man raped and hit her. The nurse testified that when she asked the woman if she had been sexually assaulted, the woman replied “I think so.”

Cook County Assistant Public Defender Joe Gump, however, insisted prosecutors failed to prove their case, claiming that no evidence indicated a sexual assault took place. He referred to testimony from forensic scientist Lisa M. Fallara of the Illinois State Police Forensic Science Center, who said no semen was found on the woman. Gump pointed out that the woman indicated during a pretrial hearing that she could not remember if her attacker took her clothes off, touched or kissed her.

Moreover, “there is little evidence Mr. Mendez had any intention of hurting her,” said Gump, pointing out that the woman suffered no fractures, concussion or internal bleeding often associated with a violent attack. Gump also referred to the knife prosecutors say Mendez used to slice the window screen and enter the apartment. The knife was found on the outside of the window.

“If he was intent on hurting her, he would have taken the knife with him,” Gump said. While acknowledging Mendez entered the woman’s apartment, Gump suggested no evidence supported a home invasion charge because his client had no way of knowing anyone was home at the time. Instead, Gump argued, prosecutors want jurors to rely on “conjecture and speculation” to convict his client.

Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Clarissa Palermo rejected his argument. She reminded jurors that earlier the same day, Mendez admitted to police that after drinking in a park, he followed another woman to her home and went in her back door. He fled when the woman and her daughter screamed, prosecutors said.

“You don’t have to speculate in this case,” Palermo said. “It’s very clear what this defendant’s actions were.”

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