Man dodges prison in near-fatal Lisle stabbing
Tempers flared inside a DuPage County courtroom Thursday as a man convicted of a near-fatal stabbing was spared prison, in part due to a wording error in one of the formal documents charging him with a crime.
Tony Oliver, 45, had faced a mandatory prison term of up to 14 years until prosecutors dismissed a felony charge that incorrectly described the knife thrust into his victim's heart as a "switchblade." Judge George Bakalis subsequently sentenced Oliver to 30 months of probation and six months in jail -- a term that wasn't possible before the erroneously worded charge was dropped.
The outcome left Oliver's victim, Plainfield resident Louie Hernandez, fuming as he stormed out of court muttering, "He's dead," several times. Hernandez, who nearly died in the attack, said later that he felt he was being victimized by the criminal justice system.
"The American court system is a joke," he said. "If that was me, I would have been in jail from day one."
Bakalis convicted Oliver in April of stabbing Hernandez four times during an August 2009 melee in the Wyndham Hotel in Lisle following a reunion of the East Aurora High School Class of 1989. The violence unfolded after Oliver, an Indianapolis man in town for a racing event, was awakened about 3 a.m. by Hernandez and other reunion revelers throwing a party in the room next door.
At trial, Oliver claimed he stabbed Hernandez in self-defense after the victim and three of the victim's former classmates attacked him in the hallway outside their rooms, as Oliver made his way toward the front desk to complain. But Hernandez and several other witnesses identified Oliver as the aggressor -- a story prosecutors said was backed up by physical evidence.
Oliver, who has prior felony convictions and has served prison time, initially was convicted of two counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, along with a more serious, mandatory prison offense: unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. But the latter charge was dropped Thursday after Oliver's attorney, Scott Kent, questioned whether the knife his client used was, in fact, a switchblade, as described in the official charging documents. The issue had not come up at trial.
Bakalis ordered prosecutors to retrieve the weapon and, after examining it, determined it had a button for unlocking its blade but did not meet the legal definition of a switchblade, which requires a button to protract the blade. He went on to sentence the defendant to probation and jail, saying he believed the defendant had been provoked.
"I don't think it justified what you did," the judge told Oliver. "But that's not to say there wasn't some provocation in the sense that if the other people had backed off a bit this situation might not have gotten to this point."
Oliver told Bakalis he himself was stabbed 14 times while serving in prison for a prior offense and was in fear of his life when he stabbed Hernandez. He apologized for Hernandez's injuries, but told the judge he wasn't to blame.
"Mr. Hernandez knows it and so do his lying friends," Oliver said.
With credit for 57 days served in the county jail since his conviction, Oliver is expected to be released in about four months.