Romero Leslie June 17

ROMERO LESLIE

URBANA — Champaign County’s first jury to sit in the age of coronavirus convicted an Indianapolis man of inappropriately touching a teenage girl almost a year ago.

Judge Roger Webber set sentencing for Romero Leslie, 57, who occasionally resided in Rantoul, for Aug. 14, following his conviction for aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

He faces penalties ranging from probation to three to seven years in prison.

The main testimony in the one-day trial came from the girl and the relative she was visiting in Rantoul on July 7, 2019. When the relative went to the store, the girl was home alone with Leslie, whom she had only recently met.

She said she was sitting on a couch playing a video game with him when he reached under her shirt and fondled her breast.

Stunned, the girl moved away from Leslie. He then walked into the hallway and looked around to see who else might be present.

She said he then told her to go to an adjacent bedroom, which she did because she said she was scared and didn’t know what he might do if she refused.

There, he tried unsuccessfully to pull her pants down, then pushed her on the bed and got on top of her, she testified.

“He kind of just laid on top of me. He was heavy. I pushed him to the side,” then left the room, she said.

She went outside to wait for her relative to return. She said Leslie came out, too, lit a cigarette, and told her “it was natural for a man to do that.”

The girl said when her older female relative got home about 15 minutes later, she told her only part of what had happened.

The woman confronted Leslie, who gave her an explanation about the girl’s shirt moving up when they hugged and him reaching to pull it down. The woman said she ordered Leslie to get his things and leave, which he did.

The teen and her relative said neither of them ever called police.

The girl phoned her mother that day and told her what had happened. About a month later, after the girl’s mother told a church friend, who told a pastor, the allegation was made to authorities, and on Aug. 17, Rantoul police began an investigation.

In mid-January, the state’s attorney’s office filed the single count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against Leslie. He was arrested Jan. 28 and has been in jail since.

Leslie declined to testify, but his attorney, Public Defender Janie Miller-Jones, did her best to poke holes in the state’s case. For instance, she asked Rantoul police Investigator Matt Bross why he did not seek the answers to many questions from the girl or her relative, which Assistant State’s Attorney Kristin Alferink later argued were irrelevant to the alleged abuse.

Alferink also argued to the jury that the girl had no reason to lie to authorities, and if she had, she could easily have embellished the allegations.

Miller-Jones said it was “crystal clear” that Leslie had not committed the fondling.

“Every detail matters,” she argued, calling the police investigation inadequate.

But Alferink countered that “there is nobody else for them to interview,” as “criminal sexual abuse happens in the dark with no witnesses.”

The jury took about 90 minutes to return its verdict.

mschenk@news-gazette.com