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November 18, 2019

Jamie Taylor/river news

Stavros Iliopoulos listens to testimony during the first day of his two-day jury trial Sept. 4, 2019. He is set to be sentenced November 22.
Jamie Taylor/river news

Stavros Iliopoulos listens to testimony during the first day of his two-day jury trial Sept. 4, 2019. He is set to be sentenced November 22.
10/1/2019 7:30:00 AM
Iliopoulos sentencing hearing set for Nov. 22
Jamie Taylor and Heather Schaefer
Of the River News

The 66-year-old Tomahawk man convicted of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old child in a closet at Northwoods Community Elementary School (NCES) last November will learn his sentence November 22.

A jury of five men and seven women deliberated for less than 90 minutes Sept. 5 before finding Iliopoulos guilty of child enticement, false imprisonment and first-degree child sexual assault. After the verdict was read, Oneida County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bloom ordered a pre-sentence investigation, with a sentencing date to be set later.

According to online court records, that hearing is now set for Nov. 22.

Iliopoulos was accused of intercepting the child Nov. 20, 2018 as she was leaving a restroom and forcing her into a closet. Once in the closet, the child reported Iliopoulos kissed her on the lips, touched her upper chest and stomach, and put his hand up her pant leg to touch her thigh. Iliopoulos was working in the school as a janitor at the time but was fired after the girl came forward.

The first witness to testify for the state was the school principal Alex Bontz.

Using an enlarged diagram of the school, Bontz pointed out the girls' bathroom and janitor's closet were directly across the hall from the classroom where he was teaching fifth grade.

When asked to describe the girl, Bontz said "she's a very kind, quiet and shy student; very hardworking."

He also added that the girl has mentored younger students in the building and that he had known her for years as a student in his school. 

In response to questions from Sowinski, Bontz recounted the events of Nov. 20, 2018 when another student reported what had happened between Iliopoulos and the girl. 

"Mister Steve (as Iliopoulos was called by students) pulled her off into the closet and tried to kiss her and hug her," Bontz said another student told him.

He also said the accuser seemed scared "and very shaken up," after the encounter.

"Her safety and well-being were my number one priority at that time," Bontz said. 

As the school day wound down, he was able to speak to the girl again and pinpoint the time to retrieve video footage from the computer server. 

Bontz testified he also made contact with administrators and the school resource officer. 

He said he didn't speak to Iliopoulos after the child reported the incident, opting to keep him on his regular schedule. 

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Andrew Morgan, Bontz admitted he had never been in the closet and didn't know if sounds from inside it could be heard in the hallway. 

Another witness for the state, Dan Wolter, the school district's network administrator, explained that all video from cameras in the school are saved to a central server and that not all camera clocks are synced to the server. He also explained the cameras are motion-sensitive, and once activated, record everything in view at a rate of 8-frames per second. This gives the footage a somewhat jerky quality. 

Wolter also noted that the angle of the cameras does not allow for a view of the janitor's closet. 

He explained that the goal was to align the cameras in such a way as to cover the most area with the fewest cameras. 

Under the direction of both attorneys, Wolter played the two videos, pausing, rewinding and narrowing the view for the jury. 

In a pretrial ruling, Bloom denied a defense request that the jury be allowed to visit the school and view the hallway in question.

After former Oneida County detective Ryan Rossing testified about the measurements of the closet, detective sergeant Kelly Moermond was called to the stand to set up the video of the police interview of the girl in the sensitivity room at the sheriff's department. 

In the interview, the girl told the detectives that Iliopoulos had stopped her outside of the bathroom and asked her for a hug. 

"Then he pushed me in there (closet) and shut the door and I couldn't get out," the girl said, adding that Iliopoulos turned off the light and tried to kiss her, but she said no. 

"When he let me out, he said 'don't tell anyone,'" she told the detectives. 

At the start of the second day of the trial, the child accuser was called to testify.

The child's time on the witness stand was very brief, however, as Sowinski asked her to verify her age and assert that she told the truth during her interview with investigators that had been shown to the jurors the previous afternoon.

When it was time for cross-examination, Morgan announced that he wanted to have the surveillance video of the school hallway played while he questioned the witness. However, the School District of Rhinelander employee who operated the equipment the previous day was not present and no one else was capable of operating the necessary equipment. 

Bloom noted the defense attorney failed to give notice that he intended to use the video footage during his cross-examination. 

"The Court is not in a position to accommodate what you have requested," Bloom said. "Had you articulated on the record yesterday these things it's possible some accommodations may have been able to be made."

After the court denied his request to have the footage played during cross-examination, Morgan announced he had no questions for the child. 

Next on the stand was the emergency room nurse who performed a sexual assault examination of the child. After explaining her education and experience, as well as the procedure for such an examination, the nurse testified that she swabbed the girl's upper chest after a fluorescent light showed a foreign substance there. She also testified that she noted an abrasion "on the outer aspect" of the girl's right thigh.

The nurse also testified that the girl told her that Iliopoulos wore plastic gloves during the assault. 

Under cross-examination, Morgan asked the nurse whether a gloved hand could cause a scratch/abrasion. 

"It's possible," the nurse replied.

Next on the stand for the state was Moermond who recounted her investigation of the girl's report, including her interview of the defendant in which he admitted to being in the closet with the child. On cross-examination, Morgan asked Moermond if she saw any red marks on the girl's arms or any other physical signs of a struggle between the girl and an adult male. Moermond responded that she did not look at the girl's arms because she didn't want to disrupt evidence that would later be collected by the nurse examiner.

Sowinski's final witness was a DNA analyst from the state crime lab in Madison.

The analyst testified that the swab the nurse examiner took of the girl's upper chest matched Iliopoulos's DNA. 

She could not determine what type of cell or fluid left the DNA or how the sample was deposited, only that it matched Iliopoulos, she testified.

During the jury's lunch break, Bloom ruled that Rossing's testimony would be stricken from the record and the jury told to disregard it. The move came at the suggestion of the prosecutor, who told the court the issues covered in Rossing's testimony were also addressed by Moermond and other witnesses.

Striking the testimony also afforded the state a way to avoid a cross-examination of Rossing as the defense would have had an opportunity to question him about a recent internal sheriff's department investigation, unrelated to the Iliopoulos case and centering on Rossing's role as a city alderman, that involved credibility.

After Bloom finished his explanation to the jury, the state rested its case.

After a short recess for a final consultation with his attorney, Iliopoulos advised the court he would not testify.

This set the stage for closing arguments.

In their closing arguments, both attorneys discussed the time - 6 minutes and 8 seconds - that elapsed from the moment the girl went into the bathroom to when she returned to her classroom, as captured by the school's surveillance system.

Sowinski took the jury through the girl's entire day on Nov. 20, 2018 - which she called both "ordinary and extraordinary" - from the toast she had for breakfast to the 6 minutes and 8 seconds when she was kissed and fondled against her will to her interviews with police later that day and her trip to Wausau for a sexual assault examination. 

"You have everything you need to decide this case," she told the jury.

For his part, Morgan argued the state failed to prove its case. He questioned whether 6 minutes and 8 seconds would be enough time for everything the girl said happened to take place. He also stressed that no DNA was found in some of the locations the girl said were touched.

"Maybe something happened that angered (the child) with Stavros, but you don't know," he concluded. "You should not convict a man when you don't know (what happened)."

In a brief rebuttal, Sowinski demonstrated just how long 6 minutes and 8 seconds is and argued it can be "an excruciatingly long time" when one is being detained in a closet and fondled against their will.

The jury of five men and seven women deliberated for less than 90 minutes to find Iliopoulos guilty. He showed no reaction as a Greek interpreter translated the jury's decision for him. 

Iliopoulos could be sentenced to life in prison on the three charges.

Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie

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