CROWN POINT | Jurors deliberated less than four hours Friday before acquitting a Calumet Township man of murder but finding him guilty of the neglect and battery of his 94-year-old mother.
George Knezevic, now 62, was accused in October 2010 of beating his mother, Ljubica Knezevic, resulting in the woman's death three days later.
For a total of nine counts, Knezevic had faced multiple charges that included murder, neglect of a dependent and battery in connection with his mother's death and also the pointing of a firearm at a neighbor who testified this week to witnessing the beating.
Jurors Friday convicted Knezevic on several counts of neglect of a dependent, the most serious a Class B felony, punishable by between six and 20 years in prison. He was also convicted of several battery counts regarding his mother.
However, jurors acquitted Knezevic on a charge of battery of a deadly weapon in connection with a neighbor, identified as Paul Sparrow.
It was Sparrow who called police to the home Knezevic shared with his mother in the 4700 block of Buchanan Street, where they found the woman bruised, battered, unable to speak and wearing wet clothes in the trash-filled house.
When calling 911, Sparrow told police Knezevic pointed a firearm at his head before firing a shot into the air.
Sparrow and two others with him at the time testified Knezevic had choked and beaten the woman outside the house before spraying her with a garden hose and pulling her into the house by her hair.
County police officers testified to finding the woman in a wet nightgown sitting weakly on a commode in the bathroom of the house that was so littered, medics could not maneuver a gurney beyond the front door.
Two doctors testified the woman was frail, had numerous health issues and had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and body, including several broken ribs. Both testified the trauma could have led to the heart failure from which she died.
During closing arguments Friday, deputy prosecuting attorney Michelle Jatkiewicz told jurors it was the woman's son who denied her the dignity of living what time remained in comfort.
The home showed signs of years of neglect, including ceilings and the roof caving in, she said.
Jatkiewicz told jurors Knezevic did not tell the police of his mother's injuries. He later deflected and evaded questioning by police as to what happened, she said.
"You don't have to hate someone to kill them," she told jurors.
The mother and son had lived alone for some years. "This day he had enough," she said.
Jatkiewicz conceded the three men who witnessed the beating later burglarized the home.
She called the men "opportunists for sure," but argued they were given the opportunity to later burglarize the empty home by Knezevic.
Defense attorney Scott King argued the case was compromised by the police officers' sympathy for the frail, elderly woman.
"Sympathy replaced professionalism in this case," he said, arguing a boot allegedly used to hit the woman wasn't tested for DNA and a police officer living nearby wasn't interviewed about what he may have observed or heard.
No one heard a gunshot, and no bullet casings were found, he said.
The state relied on eyewitness accounts from three "jackals" who later burglarized the home, stealing guns that were sold to anyone with the money, King said.
Sparrow isn't due in court on the charges until Oct. 22 — after Knezevic's trial, King said.
"The check's in the mail," King said, alluding to a deal with prosecutors.
King said the woman had bumped her head, which in older people is known to cause edema. Doctors testified the wounds to her hands were not defensive, leading to the conclusion she may have fallen, he said.
There was never an inch of history of abuse before the night in question, King said.
"And suddenly he kills his mother?" King argued.
Sentencing was set for Nov. 8 before Lake Criminal Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr.