January 26, 2006
By Stewart Warren
JOLIET — A teen who has been accused of raping a young relative has disappeared.
It's the latest twist in a controversial Will County criminal case.
On Jan. 8, Benyam Bereket-Ab, 20, telephoned and said he was in Ethiopia, said Zemeheret Bereket-Ab, his adoptive father. His family was stunned by the news.
"He has become a fugitive now," said his father, who sounded upset.
In October 2004, the younger Bereket-Ab was arrested by Naperville police and charged with predatory criminal sexual assault.
The alleged victim was younger than 13, and she became pregnant. DNA evidence allegedly has linked the teen to the crime, state prosecutors have said.
Benyam Bereket-Ab was not born in the United States. He is from Ethiopia, is adopted and is not a blood relative of the victim, his father said.
The young man has not been living at their Naperville home since he was arrested nearly two years ago.
In June 2004, the family came home and found Benyam Bereket-Ab in the basement, a bottle of Jim Beam bourbon nearby, his father said. The young man told them later he had tried to commit suicide, his father said. But he wouldn't say why.
"Until that day, he was a normal young man," his father said, adding his son never had been in any kind of trouble and earned good grades in school.
When the family consulted a doctor immediately following the incident, he said the teen should be checked by experts.
The teen allegedly told a doctor about the sexual assaults while at a local hospital, his father said. The doctor called police.
When the teen made the Jan. 8 call to his home, he told family members to pick up his car at O'Hare Airport, and the vehicle was parked there, his father said.
Zemeheret Bereket-Ab is a lawyer. As an officer of the court, he felt it was his duty to inform the Will County state's attorney's office of the news.
"We are aggressively investigating this along with federal authorities," Will County State's Attorney Jim Glasgow said Wednesday afternoon, adding that he heard about the situation Tuesday.
As a condition of his bond, Benyam Bereket-Ab is not supposed to leave the state of Illinois, and he surrendered his passport after he was arrested, Glasgow said.
Earlier this year, Chuck Bretz, the young man's lawyer, had worked out a deal with the state. Benyam Bereket-Ab agreed to plead guilty to battery if the sexual assault charges were dropped.
On Aug. 18, Will County Judge Robert Livas went through most of the routine legal procedure of accepting the plea. Then he seemed to change gears.
He asked for a letter from the victim explaining that she agreed to the battery charge. "I will go through with the plea if she is saying that to me," Livas said, according to the court transcript.
When both sides returned to Livas' courtroom the next day, Bretz had a letter from the victim. By then, the judge had changed his mind and decided not to accept the plea.
When stories about the case emerged, Glasgow demoted popular veteran attorney Phil Mock, his first assistant and the office's second in command. Mock had approved the deal.
Meanwhile, Bretz filed a new motion in the case Tuesday. He argues that his client can no longer be prosecuted for the felony sex charge.
"The judge allowed the filing of the misdemeanor charges (of battery)," Bretz said. "By doing so, he implicitly granted the motion to dismiss the felony charges."
Bretz argues that his client can only be sentenced for the misdemeanor because he already has pleaded guilty to that.
Glasgow disagreed, however.
"It is a baseless motion," he said.
Additionally, Bretz refused to comment on his client's whereabouts.
Although it is not yet clear if the young man truly has left the United States — for all anyone knows, he might be here in Joliet — he is scheduled to appear in Livas' courtroom at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
"If Mr. Bereket-Ab is not in court, we will move for a bond forfeiture," Glasgow said.
His parents posted $10,000 bail to secure his release from the Will County Jail.
Charles B. Pelkie
(815) 530-7110 (cellular)
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