Appellate court upholds conviction of man who threatened Ives
The Second District Appellate Court of Illinois has affirmed the 2016 conviction of Stephen Bona, 55, formerly of Chicago, for threatening Republican state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton.
On March 17, 2016, a DuPage jury convicted Bona on two felony counts of threatening a public official. Judge George Bakalis sentenced Bona to two years of probation, a $1,000 fine and 200 hours of community service in July 2016.
Bona, who moved to California with his ailing 76-year-old husband, was allowed to transfer his probation to California.
Bona left the message, which was deemed a threat, on a voicemail box at Ives' district office on March 20, 2013.
"Your Tea Party brethren Sarah Palin put up a map that included the names, locations and faces of Democratic candidates and put them in the crosshairs of a gun," Bona said on the voicemail, played several times during his trial.
Bona went on to suggest that "perhaps we should do the same for you. We know where you live."
Bona left the message after Ives' February 2013 appearance on a Catholic Conference of Illinois radio show. On that show, she said same-sex marriages are "disordered" and couples are trying to "weasel their way into acceptability."
In his appeal, Bona challenged the constitutionality of the law under which he was convicted, as well as the sufficiency and admissibility of evidence presented against him. In its affirmation, the appellate court found the statute under which Bona was convicted is constitutional and "is not constrained by the first amendment."
Regarding Bona's claims against the evidence used against him at trial, the appellate court found that "based on the evidence, it was certainly reasonable for the jury to conclude … he intended to threaten Representative Ives." The appellate court also found Ives' testimony, which Bona was questioning, "was much more probative than prejudicial" and that "the trial court did not abuse its discretion by permitting the testimony."
DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin thanked the appellate court for "seeing through" Bona's attempt to shield himself with the First Amendment.
"His vitriol crossed the line of free speech and was intended to intimidate Representative Ives. Our democracy demands that public officials must be allowed to do their work free from interference or fear of retaliation that threatens their safety or the safety of their family," Berlin said. "They are elected to do a job and my office will do everything within our power to ensure that these men and women will not be harassed by those who differ in opinion."
Ives said she hopes the affirmation will make others think twice about threatening elected officials.
"I'm pleased with the appellate court decision. I think they've now confirmed what we knew to be true, that Stephen Bona's language was a personal threat and not freedom of speech," she said. "It's good to have this ruling, so going forward, people have a better understanding of what the interpretation of the law is in that respect."