April 23, 2014
The young woman from the Northwest Side had stopped paying attention to the news.
Ever since last summer, she didn’t want to hear it.
But a friend told the 24-year-old woman to take a look Sunday. So she did. And she saw the face of Luis Pantoja, the man who made headlines after police accused him of the December sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl.
He’s the same man prosecutors accused in August of raping the 24-year-old woman in an alley. That attack allegedly happened less than a mile from the scene of the brutal assault on the 15-year-old.
The 24-year-old woman told the Chicago Sun-Times, in Spanish, that she reacted Sunday with these words: “Wow. My God.
“No, it can’t be.”
Cook County Judge Laura M. Sullivan dismissed on Sept. 17 that woman’s case against Pantoja for lack of evidence. But it’s part of the startling criminal history of the Belmont-Cragin man, which began to reveal itself after prosecutors charged him during the weekend with attempted murder, aggravated battery, aggravated criminal sexual assault and unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon.
His alleged 15-year-old victim in the new case was found bleeding in the snow at about 8 a.m. Dec. 17, 21/2 hours after police believe she was attacked. She was found in a backyard in the 2400 block of North Long. She was shoeless, all but unconscious, and her pants had been yanked off.
Pantoja, 25, who is deaf and goes by the nickname “Silent,” is being held in that case without bail, pending a bond hearing Tuesday.
He was sentenced in 2008 to six years in prison for failure to report an accident causing death and possession of a stolen vehicle. That conviction was key, because police said it placed Pantoja in a federal DNA database used to connect him to the Dec. 17 assault.
But the aunt of the 24-year-old woman allegedly raped in the early morning hours of Aug. 15 said the 15-year-old girl might never have been assaulted in December had last summer’s charges against Pantoja stuck.
“The police did their work,” the aunt said. “The problem was the judge that threw the case away.”
The 24-year-old victim and her aunt each spoke to the Sun-Times, in Spanish, on the condition their names wouldn’t be used. Judge Sullivan, meanwhile, did not respond to messages left by the newspaper seeking further explanation for her ruling.
Pantoja is accused in a police report of grabbing the 24-year-old woman by the arm at about 1:30 a.m. Aug. 15, pulling her into an alley and raping her. The records show she was treated and released at Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center.
The 24-year-old told the Sun-Times she met Pantoja once while walking home. She said he followed her and spoke to her with hand signals and mouth movements.
The next night, she said he asked her to go to his house to meet his mother. She said she declined, but he insisted, and she accompanied him to his house where his grandmother was home. She said they talked in his room and he showed her photos of his young son. She said he insisted on kissing her so much that she let him do so, but she eventually got mad and left.
Afterward, she said she was assaulted between two buildings. Her aunt said the 24-year-old woman was hit in the mouth and her pants were ripped. When the assault ended, the 24-year-old woman said she ran to her aunt’s house.
Later, the 24-year-old woman said she picked Pantoja out of a lineup. Police reports show he was arrested Aug. 27, and Sullivan dismissed the case for lack of probable cause three weeks later.
Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the Cook County State’s Attorney, said the judge was presented with evidence, including testimony from the alleged victim, during a preliminary hearing. She also said a rape kit was submitted for testing in the case, but that wouldn’t necessarily have come up in court.
The aunt of the alleged 24-year-old victim said her niece is still in therapy. And the 24-year-old woman said Monday she didn’t understand at the time why the case against Pantoja was dropped.
“The bad thing was when we were in court and they didn’t do anything,” the 24-year-old said.
“That’s what hurt me,” she said. “They took me as a liar.”