Jury finds man guilty of neglect, battery, but not murder, in mother’s death
By Ruth Ann Krause Post-Tribune correspondent October 11, 2013 7:24PM
Updated: November 13, 2013 6:09AM
CROWN POINT — Lake Superior Court jurors on Friday convicted a Calumet Township man of neglect of a dependent and battery charges in the death of his 94-year-old mother.
But they acquitted George Knezevic, 62, of murder in his mother’s death and a battery charge involving a witness who said the defendant put a gun to his head.
Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. ordered Knezevic held in Lake County Jail pending his Nov. 8 sentencing hearing. The most serious of the charges is punishable by six to 20 years. Jurors deliberated about three and a half hours Friday
In closing arguments, deputy prosecutor Michelle Jatkiewicz argued that evidence proved Knezevic’s battery of his mother in front of three witnesses caused the death of the frail Ljubica “Violet” Knezevic. Her death three days later was from a heart attack brought on by the stress of the multiple blunt force trauma in the attack, said forensic pathologist Dr. John Cavanaugh with the Lake County coroner’s office, who testified for the prosecution.
Knezevic was convicted of neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury, bodily injury and endangering Ljubica in what Jatkiewicz argued were deplorable, filthy living conditions. Officers described a strong odor of human waste and a pathway through garbage and clutter in the home, where bedroom ceilings had collapsed
Jatkiewicz recounted testimony that Knezevic put a gun to the head of one witness and fired a round in the air after being confronted by the man on Oct. 13, 2010, outside the family home at 4774 Buchanan St., Calumet Township.
Defense attorney Scott King argued a bruise on the woman’s forehead could have resulted from a fall the previous night, something Knezevic mentioned to police in his statements. King portrayed Knezevic as a doting son who cared for his widowed mother for years without incident.
King also questioned the credibility of the three witnesses who were later charged with burglarizing the home and stealing numerous guns after Ljubica Knezevic was hospitalized and Knezevic was arrested.
Jurors saw photos of the woman’s badly bruised and swollen face and bruised torso and arms. Ljubica had five rib fractures and bruising on her neck, which Jatkiewicz argued was consistent with two of the three witness accounts of Knezevic grabbing the woman by the neck after striking her with a boot and his hand, and spraying her with a garden hose. Witnesses described Knezevic throwing the woman against the outside of the home before forcing her inside.
Police testified the woman tightly held their hand, an unusual occurrence and something King labeled unprofessional in his closing argument as he urged jurors not to be swayed by sympathy in the elderly woman’s death, which was eminent from her admission at the hospital.
“Sympathy for a lovely woman, a beautiful woman, has replaced professionalism in this case,” King said. He argued that blunt force trauma could be caused from falling and said police did not preserve the boot as evidence so that it could be tested for DNA.
Dr. William Forgey, Ljubica Knezevic’s physician, said the neck bruising could be from pooling of blood brought on by gravity and outlined her numerous health issues.
Jatkiewicz told jurors the three witnesses are “opportunistic criminals who seized an opportunity created by this defendant” but said their accounts matched physical evidence. Jurors also convicted Knezevic of pointing a firearm.
King pointed out that the burglary involved theft of safes containing dozens of weapons that were traced to a Gary address where police later found they were being sold illegally. He argued that two of the three men benefited by testifying in the Knezevic case, although none of the men had plea agreements requiring their testimony.
Paul Sparrow III’s burglary case and other felony cases are still pending, and he has pleaded not guilty. Travis Jones, 20, and Danair Williams, 25, have pleaded guilty to lesser crimes in the Knezevic burglary.