Lawyer not guilty of felony for letting suspect use her cellphone
BY RUMMANA HUSSAIN Criminal Courts Reporteremail@example.com November 29, 2012 5:12PM
Attorney Sladjana Vuckovic was found not guilty Thursday of two counts of bringing contraband to a penal institution.
Updated: November 29, 2012 9:06PM
Sladjana Vuckovic’s “heart goes out” to the families of slain Chicago Police evidence technician Michael Flisk and former CHA Police Officer Stephen Peters.
Her own father was murdered in the former Yugoslavia and the man accused of killing him died awaiting trial.
But Vuckovic, an attorney who was cleared by a jury Thursday of two counts of bringing contraband to a penal institution, thinks even murder suspects have rights. And she says she did nothing wrong when she let a teenager suspect use her cellphone in an interrogation room at the Area 2 police headquarters. The suspect later was charged with gunning down Flisk and Peters.
Vuckovic was slapped with the felony charges after investigators found there were 26 calls on her cellphone while she met with Timothy Herring Jr. on Nov. 27 and Nov. 28, 2010.
Vuckovic, a CTA lawyer who was volunteering with First Defense Legal Aid when she visited Herring, maintained that she only gave Herrick the phone so he could let his family and friends know he was OK and that she had advised him not to discuss the case with relatives.
“I was only trying to build a trust and rapport with my client, who I never met before,” Vuckovic, 44, said after her acquittal.
From the moment the jury began deliberating, the jurors all seemed to be on the same page, concluding that Vuckovic wasn’t aware she was breaking the law when she took her cellphone into the interrogation room, juror Deirdre Head said.
“These are the real heroes,” Vuckovic gushed, smiling and laughing as she chased and applauded jurors outside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse to thank them.
During the three-day trial, jurors weren’t told whom Herring was accused of killing.
Cook County prosecutors emphasized that the calls in question could have compromised the “very, very” serious investigation.
“She doesn’t know who his [Herring’s] family and friends are,” said assistant state’s attorney Thomas Mahoney as a packed courtroom filled with police officers, prosecutors, public defenders and Flisk’s relatives looked on. “She has no idea who these people are. She has no idea if these people are witnesses in this very serious matter.”
Vuckovic’s attorney Leonard Goodman brushed off the possibility that Herring helped his defense through the phone calls.
“She doesn’t go out there to help a suspect cook up an alibi or destroy evidence,” said Goodman, who called on former U.S. Attorney Thomas Sullivan and former Chicago Police Supt. Richard J. Brzeczek as witnesses.
At the heart of the was the question of whether an interrogation room could be defined as a penal institution.
Brzeczek said he didn’t think so and Sullivan said he had no idea bringing a phone into an interview room was a crime.
Sullivan testified that he, like Vuckovic, gave his nephew a phone in an interrogation room. The young man, Sullivan said, needed to call his mother after his arrest.
Vuckovic, who now works for Loevy & Loevy law firm, said she will continue volunteering for First Defense and hopes others won’t shy away from doing so in light of her unusual, controversial case.
She did vow to change one thing: She will never bring a phone into a CPD interrogation room.
“I don’t want to go through with this ordeal ever again,” she said.