Former Gavin teacher gets 50 years in prison for molestations

Updated 11/6/2015 9:19 AM
  • Michael Vucic

    Michael Vucic

  • Michael Vucic

    Michael Vucic

Former Gavin Elementary District 37 teacher Michael Vucic received a 50-year prison sentence for molesting two students from a school where he worked.

Vucic, 42, of Lake Forest, was sentenced Thursday by Lake County Circuit Judge Daniel Shanes.

In pronouncing the sentence, Shanes took issue with Vucic's statement to the court that he had "consensual" sexual relationships with the girls. Shanes said "rape" is a good word to describe what Vucic did to the victims.

"This was non-consensual," Shanes said. "It was non-consensual because they were children -- children who were unable to understand and consent."

In September, the former instructor at Gavin Middle School in unincorporated Ingleside near Fox Lake pleaded guilty to single counts of predatory criminal sexual assault and possession of child pornography involving one victim, and criminal sexual assault and possession of child pornography for the second victim.

Vucic previously pleaded not guilty to more than 50 counts of predatory criminal sexual assault, sexual exploitation of a child, aggravated child pornography, criminal sexual assault of a victim under the age of 17 and aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Had he been found guilty after a trial, he could have been sent to prison for more than 120 years.

Prosecutors said one victim told her grandparents she engaged in sex acts with Vucic after school in his classroom, and when both of them would video-chat online. The grandparents contacted the Lake County sheriff's office, which investigated the allegations in September 2014.

A recording of sexual acts revealed the second victim, authorities said. The victims are no longer students at Gavin.

Videotapes showing Vucic and the victims engaged in sex acts were given to sheriff's office investigators and prosecutors by former teacher April Courtney, 35, authorities said.

Vucic left instructions for friends to destroy the contents of the tapes should he die or be arrested, officials said.

He ignited an international manhunt after he fled the country last year just days before charges were filed. He was arrested by members of the Lake County sheriff's office and Interpol in Bosnia-Herzegovina in September 2014, three weeks after the charges were lodged.

One victim read a statement in court before Vucic was sentenced. She said she has problems trusting others and still carries guilt and shame over what happened with Vucic.

"To be clear," she told Vucic as he sat at the defense table, "I refuse to let you penetrate my life in a way that it kills me."

Vucic apologized and said he only wanted to help the girls.

"Anyone who knows me, knows I cannot purposely hurt another human," he said.

His mother, Julia Vucic, asked Shanes to have compassion in his prison sentence. She said Vucic's father was killed in a still-unsolved slaying in Lake Bluff in 1975.

Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Fred Day, who prosecuted the case, asked that Vucic be sentenced to 55 years behind bars. Day said Vucic groomed and took advantage of vulnerable children.

"Both of these girls did care about him very much," Day said. "To them, he was their world."

Defense attorney Elliott Pinsel asked Shanes to give his client an unspecified lesser sentence so he would not spend the rest of his life in prison. He submitted about 20 letters of support for Vucic, some were from Gavin parents who praised his work with their children.

"He volunteered often at school," Pinsel said. "It wasn't just 9 to 5."

Separately, two of three former Gavin teachers accused of not reporting the sexual attacks have pleaded guilty in Lake County court.

Earlier this week, John Keehan, 41, of Elgin received one year of conditional discharge, and he is required to pay a $2,100 fine and make a $500 donation to the Lake County Children's Advocacy Center after admitting to one count of reckless conduct.

Keehan joined April Courtney, 35, of Wauconda in pleading guilty to charges after failing to report Vucic had molested the two students. Courtney was sentenced to 30 days in jail for failure to report the abuse.

Michael Lanners, 38, of Lake Villa is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 12 on the same charges later this month.

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