A Lake County sheriff's deputy has been found not guilty of destroying evidence that he hired a prostitute.
Eric Francke, 33, of the 43000 block of Forest Drive in Antioch, was emotional as he shook hands with defense attorneys Thursday after Lake County Judge John Phillips ruled prosecutors failed to provide he intentionally tried to thwart his own prosecution by destroying text messages with a woman he knew was working as a prostitute for the purpose of engaging in a sex act.
"We were positive that Eric never committed a crime in the first place," defense attorney David Del Re said moments after the verdict. "We believe he deserves to have his job back immediately."
Francke, who has been suspended without pay since he was charged in May, faced up to three years in prison if found guilty of obstructing justice. He also faced a charge of solicitation of a sex act.
The charges were the last outstanding issue in a human sex trafficking case brought to light by Mundelein police in April.
Aaron Thurmond, 23, and his brother Jeffrey Horton, 27, were stopped by Mundelein police about 11 p.m. on April 2 after they were seen driving with their headlights off.
During the traffic stop, a female passenger told officers she was forced to work as a prostitute by Thurmond and Horton. She said she had just left a Wauconda home where she was paid $300 to have sex and was traveling to meet a man in Antioch where she would also be paid for a sex act.
That Antioch man was Francke, authorities said.
Thurmond and Horton were charged with trafficking in persons/involuntary servitude, promoting prostitution and money laundering.
Horton pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of promoting prostitution June 28 and is free on probation.
Thurmond pleaded guilty to a single count of trafficking in humans for forcing the woman to work as a prostitute. He was sentenced to four years in prison as part of a negotiated plea.
Francke, a sheriff's deputy since September 2008, refused to comment after Phillips' directed verdict ruling.
Sheriff Mark Curran said he would review the court proceedings before determining Francke's status.
"I will review it with the undersheriff and the rest of the command staff and make a decision about it shortly," Curran said.
The trial was off to a rocky start for prosecutors when the victim did not show up in court to testify. The proceedings continued without her testimony as prosecutors tried to show Francke hired the woman off backpage.com to perform a sex act, and that he deleted five text messages he had with her after she was arrested by police.
"We're obviously disappointed by the ruling," assistant state's attorney Fred Day said after the trial. "But, we believe we presented the facts as best as possible in court."