Home invader showed compassion, gets shorter sentence

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Jake Magee
Friday, September 8, 2017

JANESVILLE—When a group of armed men invaded a home and terrorized a family one cold January night last year, only one among them—Jontae Pegeese—showed any humanity.

He used a blanket to cover the mother, who lay on the ground with her underwear exposed. She said it brought her a small sense of security.

When the family's young daughter screamed from upstairs, Pegeese rushed to reunite her with her parents.

He tried to calm the other criminals.

These are some statements attorneys and victims made during Pegeese's sentencing in Rock County Court on Thursday. Pegeese, 19, was charged with armed robbery, burglary and false imprisonment for his involvement in the invasion of a home near Craig High School the night of Jan. 11, 2016.

Judge James Daley sentenced Pegeese to six years in prison and 10 years extended supervision. Pegeese will be eligible four years into his sentence for a challenge incarceration program that could see him released early. Pegeese already has more than 600 days in jail as credit toward his sentence.

Pegeese was the only home invader to show remorse. When he covered the mother with a blanket, "I actually thanked him," the mother said between tears when speaking in court Thursday.

She begged Pegeese to not let the others harm her "baby girl," and Pegeese promised he would protect her. The mother said he deserved leniency but needed to serve time for his actions.

"I find myself feeling sorry for Jontae, unlike the others involved," the mother said.

Prosecutor Richard Sullivan, defense attorney Steven Zaleski and Pegeese himself agreed he was on a good path and made one tragic, foolish decision with horrible consequences.

The men invaded the home to burglarize it. Despite trying to help the family, Pegeese helped steal a backpack of drugs to try to make some easy money, Sullivan said.

"Never in his wildest dreams did he think it would morph into something more severe than that, which obviously it did," Zaleski said.

Pegeese didn't grow up in a nurturing home. He had no male role model in his life, and he was in foster care during at least part of high school, Sullivan said.

Despite this, he excelled in sports and maintained a high grade point average. He managed to graduate from Craig High School while incarcerated, something Daley said is rare for the perpetrator of such a serious crime.

The mother said the greatest apology Pegeese could offer the family would be to return to a righteous path and succeed in life, Sullivan said.

Daley said Pegeese could have backed out of the crime at any point. Pegeese waited in the car with the driver while the other men entered the home. The driver forced Pegeese to follow them, Sullivan said.

The crime could have been much worse had Pegeese not been there to calm the criminals. The crime would have happened with or without Pegeese because he had a minimal role, Zaleski said.

Pegeese initially lied to police and said he wasn't involved. A day later, he confessed, and his cooperation helped police capture other criminals involved, Zaleski said.

Pegeese apologized to the victims for his "genuine mistake" and expressed remorse. He asked Daley for a second chance so he could further his education and succeed as the family wants, but he recognized he needed to be punished.

Sullivan asked for five years prison and 10 years extended supervision, noting Pegeese's compassionate actions during the crime and cooperation with police.

"He has to pay for what he has done. But what he's done is immediately mitigate this absolutely tragic decision that he has made," Sullivan said.

Zaleski requested probation be considered instead of prison.

"He's much better served, judge, to give him a second chance and go forward with his life," he said.

Daley said such a light sentence would depreciate the severity of the crime.

"You have the qualities and the intelligence and the character to be a very good man, Mr. Pegeese," Daley said after sentencing. "You can consider this the end of your life, or you can consider it the beginning of the rest of your life. That's a choice you must make, and I hope you chose the latter."

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