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Streamwood victim speaks out

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Posted by: EricWI at Tue Nov 13 11:01:43 2012  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by EricWI ]  

Streamwood victim speaks out after Milwaukee defendant pleads no contest

In what authorities acknowledged was an unusual outcome for a sexual assault case, a Milwaukee man described as a reptile hoarder agreed to plead no contest Monday in a deal that could spare him jail time and wipe away the alleged sex crime from his record.

The accuser in the case, a suburban Chicago woman, said she was disappointed by the plea, but prosecutors said they lacked the evidence to take the man to trial in a case that lingered for more than two years.

Under the deferred prosecution agreement, Terry Cullen, 63, won't face jail time as long as he meets a set of conditions within five months, including 25 hours of community service, a $2,500 donation to animal rescue organizations and sex offender evaluation and treatment, if recommended.

The accuser, Jennifer Rushing, 26, of Streamwood, declined to give a statement in a Milwaukee County courtroom but agreed to an interview afterward.

"I am pretty disappointed," said Rushing, accompanied by a victim's advocate and her mother, who is a rape counselor.

The Tribune does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual assault, but Rushing said she wants to stand up for others.

"I don't agree with (allowing sexual assault suspects to enter plea bargains) to make it easier on the attorneys," said Rushing, who also requested $5,000 in restitution for court travel expenses and therapy. "I believe very much in trial by jury and the people making the decisions on whether the charges are strong enough."

Authorities accused Cullen in May 2010 of felony sexual assault, false imprisonment and several other charges alleging mistreatment and improper housing of hundreds of snakes, crocodiles, rats and other animals that were found during the investigation.

Cullen pleaded no contest to fourth-degree sexual assault, a misdemeanor meaning any sexual touching without consent. If he meets terms of the deferred prosecution agreement over five months, his offense will revert to city ordinance violations for assault and disorderly conduct, Judge David Borowski said, and the animal charges will be dropped.

Cullen declined to comment.

Assistant District Attorney Sara Lewis described the case as difficult because of a lack of evidence and a defense strategy that she predicted would seek to raise questions about Rushing if Cullen were brought to trial.

"It continues to be the state's belief that the woman in this case was victimized and victimized by Terry Cullen," Lewis said. "I do think Mr. Cullen certainly crossed the line. Miss Rushing is a credible young woman."

However, Lewis said that in the defense's "fairly exhaustive pretrial investigation, a number of different things came to light that might make it difficult for the state to prove its case."

Defense lawyer Lewis Wasserman indicated in prior hearings that he believes Rushing has made "false allegations" against other men.

"The state has proof problems, significant proof problems," Wasserman said after the hearing.

Rushing questioned what proof Wasserman had that she had made false allegations. She cited a case that was reported by the Tribune in February 2011 in which she and a classmate at the Illinois Institute of Art complained that another student had harassed them. That student was a convicted sex offender who, as a result of the complaint, later pleaded guilty to failing to tell Schaumburg police he was attending a college in the village, as required.

Cullen had no prior criminal record when he met Rushing in February 2010 at a reptile fair at the Tinley Park Convention Center, where she inquired about an internship with his organization, the "Cullen Vivarium Wildlife Conservancy," according to court records.

After an initial job interview, authorities alleged, Cullen assaulted the woman in his home after her mother had dropped her off with him at a Milwaukee restaurant.

When police searched Cullen's home, they found more than 200 animals, many exotic and on federal and state endangered lists, in squalid conditions, according to the complaint. Authorities, "overcome by the odor," found free-roaming crocodiles eating cardboard and rat and turtle carcasses that were decomposing, it states.

During the hearing, Lewis described Cullen as a reptile hoarder, while Cullen sat silently shaking his head "no."

After the hearing, Wasserman said his client does not believe he has a hoarding problem. Cullen no longer owns any reptiles in Wisconsin but does keep animals in Florida, Wasserman said.,0,5215141.story


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