|Joseph Kopacz has been found guilty of home invasion and aggravated criminal sexual abuse in connection with an incident in the 3800 block of North Kenmore. | CPD; Google|
UPDATE Nov 29, 2019: The story has become even weirder. Officials confirmed today that Kopacz has gone on the run, slipping away from the courthouse while jurors deliberated the case. A full report on his disappearance is here. Our original report on his conviction follows.
One of the strangest cases that CWBChicago has ever covered is winding down in criminal court after a jury returned guilty verdicts against accused home invader and sexual abuser Joseph Kopacz.
The road from Kopacz’s October 2016 arrest to this month’s jury verdict was long, winding, and filled with bizarre details.
Around 8:30 a.m. on October 15, 2016, Kopacz was arrested in the backyard of a home in the 3800 block of North Kenmore—about a block north of Wrigley Field. Prosecutors said Kopacz had crawled into a 23-year-old man’s bed, put his face on the victim’s crotch, and tried to remove the man’s underwear. But the victim woke up and Kopacz ran out of the house, only to be tackled in the backyard by the victim and his roommates, police said.
Kopacz allegedly begged them, “Let me go. I’m a good person. I just have a problem. I’ll go to jail for the rest of my life,” according to prosecutors.
Police say they recovered a phone from Kopacz that contained photos of the Kenmore victim and a number of other young men sleeping as well as a “prostate massager” and lubricant.
The victim and his roommates told police that a strange man had been found in their apartment on previous occasions, but that he had escaped each time.
A grand jury returned a 12-count “true bill,” charging Kopacz with two Class X felony counts of home invasion – sex offense; four counts of residential burglary; three counts of attempted criminal sexual assault; and two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.
The case meandered through the usual series of routine court hearings and filings until early this year when prosecutors asked Judge Thaddeus Wilson to allow them to introduce details of a string of similar crimes that they say Kopacz has committed since 1990.
• In 2004, a then-23-year-old man who fell asleep on a couch at a friend’s Lakeview home awoke to find Kopacz standing over him with the victim’s pants down and Kopacz fondling him, according to the state’s filings. Nobody in the apartment knew Kopacz, who was chased from the home and detained by the victim and his friends. Kopacz was convicted of home invasion and criminal sexual abuse. He served four years of a 90-month sentence, according to court records.
• In February 1992, an Eau Claire, Wisconsin man awoke to find his legs tied together, tape over his mouth, and Kopacz fondling him, prosecutors said. Kopacz fled, then allegedly called the victim to tell him what he had done.
• The next day, another Eau Claire man awoke in his apartment to find Kopacz, a complete stranger, tickling his feet, according to court records.
• In September 1991, a Wisconsin man allegedly awoke to find Kopacz standing over him, asking if he could get into bed with him. Kopacz addressed the victim by name even though the victim had never met Kopacz before, prosecutors say. Kopacz fled but he was later caught and admitted to bringing rope with the intention of tying the victim up, according to the prosecutors’ court motion.
• In July 1990, yet another Eau Claire man woke up to find Kopacz fondling him. The victim and his roommates chased Kopacz and cops later tracked Kopacz down based on a license plate number that the victim gave them, according to an order Wilson wrote granting the state’s request to introduce the previous crimes.
Wilson said Wisconsin prosecutors filed six charges against Kopacz, of which he was convicted of two: second-degree sexual assault of a sleeping person and burglary, bringing a sentence of ten-years probation.
Just nine days after Wilson granted the state’s motion to introduce details of the earlier crimes, Kopacz had a stunner of his own: He gave prosecutors a computer disc containing a collection of images of the Kenmore victim sleeping in the victim’s home on different dates and in different rooms of the house.
And, Kopacz had another last-minute zinger: He claimed that he had been in a consensual relationship with the Kenmore victim for nine or ten months before he was chased out of the home and tackled in the backyard.
But the victim denied Kopacz’s claims and the state argued that the disc full of images indicates that Kopacz had been in the victim’s home repeatedly before being caught. Prosecutors filed a motion seeking a court order for Kopacz to surrender the devices he used to take the images of his alleged victim so they may be forensically analyzed to determine the dates and times that the images were taken.
Faced with the possibility that Kopacz’s collection of images could cast reasonable doubt on their case in the minds of jurors and with Wilson denying the state’s request for another delay in the trial, prosecutors dropped ten of the twelve charges against Kopacz on Nov. 5th.
A jury was empaneled and the state went to trial with just two charges remaining: one Class X felony count of home invasion – sex offense and one felony count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.
Kopacz was found guilty of both charges. Wilson revoked Kopacz’ bail and ordered him to undergo pre-sentencing evaluation.
Under Illinois law, Kopacz faces a sentence of six to thirty years on the home invasion case. He would be required to serve 85% of the sentence because the charge is a Class X-level felony. The aggravated sexual abuse conviction carries a sentence of three to seven years.
Kopacz is due back in court on December 10th.