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Chicago cop washed hands before tests in death involving his gun

Catherine Weilwoman who was shot with gun Sgt. Steven Lesner. | Phoprovided by Daniel Franzgrote

Catherine Weiland, the woman who was shot with the gun of Sgt. Steven Lesner. | Photo provided by Daniel Franzgrote

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Updated: October 17, 2013 6:02AM



As Catherine Weiland sat dead on her couch with a bullet wound in her head from a Chicago police sergeant’s gun, the sergeant washed his hands before investigating officers tested him to see whether he might have fired the weapon, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

Sgt. Steven Lesner’s hands showed no evidence of gunshot residue — particles that can be washed away with soap and water.

The police didn’t test Lesner till more than three hours after he reported the 47-year-old Northwest Side woman killed herself with his gun while they were alone in her apartment on Feb. 18, 2009, according to Chicago Police Department records released by the Illinois State Police Crime Lab.

Jody Weis, the police superintendent at the time of the shooting, was surprised to learn Lesner had washed his hands because he should have known doing so could compromise the gunshot residue test.

“It’s a form of evidence that’s relatively fragile, and you can wash it off,” Weis said.

The records show Lesner washed his hands in Weiland’s apartment sometime after the shooting, which he reported at 1:42 a.m. He did so before the first police arrived two minutes later, according to Adam Collins, a police spokesman.

The only gunshot residue found was on Weiland’s left hand, though the police now say the right-handed woman used her right hand to shoot herself in the right temple. No suicide note was found.

Police reports don’t indicate whether Weiland’s fingerprints or DNA were found on Lesner’s gun.

“Clearly, they should have run fingerprints or something,” said Weis. “Having her fingerprints or DNA on it would corroborate the story he provided.”

Collins, the police spokesman, said Lesner’s gun “was not fingerprinted because the grips on the gun are not a surface that prints can be obtained from.”

The police did swab the gun for DNA. But they never provided Lesner’s DNA to the state crime lab, so no DNA tests were conducted on Lesner’s gun.

“By law, CPD would have needed a court-ordered search warrant for Lesner’s DNA, and since there was no probable cause that a crime had been committed, CPD would not have been able to obtain a warrant,” Collins said.

Lesner, 47, has been a Chicago cop for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t suspended following the shooting but is now under investigation by the department’s internal affairs division, the Sun-Times reported last month.

He got his gun back on April 11, 2011.

Lesner couldn’t be reached for comment, and his attorney declined to comment.

He told detectives he’d never met Weiland until he responded to her cellphone call to the police around 7:40 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2009, about an argument with her boyfriend, Daniel Franzgrote, at the bar at La Villa Restaurant on Pulaski north of Addison.

Lesner told investigators Weiland was drunk, so he drove her home in his squad car. He said he stopped on the way to buy her a bottle of wine, escorted her into her second-floor apartment at 3115 N. St. Louis and gave her his business card, writing his cellphone number on the back. He then drove Weiland and her brother back to La Villa so they could get her car.

Later that night, just before 11 p.m., as he was finishing his shift, Lesner said, Weiland called, asking if he wanted to go out drinking. Lesner, who was married at the time but has since divorced, said he declined but agreed, at her suggestion, to come to her apartment to watch TV, saying he’d bring beer. He said she asked him to bring another bottle of wine and that he did.

Lesner said he arrived around 11:30 that night. He was drinking and watching TV with Weiland when he took off his ankle holster, with his gun, and put it on the floor while he went to the bathroom. He said that’s where he was when he heard a gunshot around 1:40 a.m. and came out to find Weiland seated in her living room with a gunshot wound.

According to police reports, Lesner called 911 from his cellphone. The city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications has declined to release a recording of the call.

The investigation into Weiland’s death was assigned to a team of detectives led by Detective Thomas Conley, who, like Lesner, played for the FOP Stars, a police union hockey club with 60 members.

Having Conley involved posed no conflict of interest, according to the police department, because he and Lesner played for separate teams within the club, and Conley’s work was reviewed by a supervisor.

In his reports, Conley wrote that he found Weiland in a sitting position on her love seat, with her right leg crossed over her left leg and Lesner’s gun in her lap near her left hand. According to Conley, there were pill bottles on the living-room table and in her bedroom, where police found a half-full bottle of Lesner’s Michelob Ultra beer.

Lesner remained in the apartment with Joseph FitzSimmons, an attorney for the Chicago Police Sergeants’ Association.

Investigator Nick Ribaudo said in a report that he tested Weiland’s hands for gunshot residue around 3:50 a.m., then tested Lesner’s hands at 5 a.m. at Area 5 detective headquarters. He noted that Lesner washed his hands “at scene.”

The State Police Crime Lab said it wasn’t given Lesner’s clothing to test for gunshot residue.

Weiland, a former insurance underwriter, had been licensed as a pharmacy technician shortly before her death. Twice-divorced, she’d struggled with alcoholism and bipolar disorder.

Franzgrote, 47, her boyfriend of two years, said he spoke with Weiland ‘three or four times a day” and that “she’d had problems.”

Still, Franzgrote said, “What happened that night, I don’t know if anybody will ever know, except for the sergeant.”

But he added: “There was no reason for the police officer to be there. Bottom line: If he wasn’t there, none of this would have happened.”



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