Prosecutors have challenged a defense firearms safety expert in the trial of George Kleopa, who has been charged with the 2012 shooting of his live-in girlfriend, Michele Peters.
On March 6, 2012, a 30-year-old Michele Peters was found dead after being fatally shot in the face. At the time, Kleopa and Peters had been a couple for 14 years. Peters’ friends and family allege that it was an abusive relationship and that Peters had been planning to leave Kleopa and move away with the couple’s sons.
Witnesses have said that they heard the couple arguing on the night that Peters was shot. Kleopa maintains that the shooting was accidental — he claims that his Springfield Armory XD 40 pistol discharged accidentally, striking Peters in the face.
Four months after Peters’ death, Kleopa was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Kleopa has remained free on a $200,000 bond since he was charged.
Prosecutor Nicholas D’Angelo offered a plea deal for Kleopa to plead to a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence. Kleopa indicated he did not want to make such a deal and that deal has since been revoked. If convicted by a jury of first-degree murder, Kleopa faces a sentence of 45 years to life.
The Proposed Expert
As Kleopa prepares to go to trial, his attorneys, David Sotomayor and Theodore Gailin, have proposed a firearm safety expert to testify in Kleopa’s defense.
Prosecutor Nicholas D’Angelo argued that the proposed expert’s testimony would be hearsay based upon a demonstration that Kleopa gave in the expert’s office with the gun two years after the shooting. D’Angelo said, “There has to be some reliability of data to back that opinion,” noting that the pistol required a six-pound pull to produce a discharge. “The defendant has a self-serving interest on how he manipulated the gun.”
D’Angelo argued that, by presenting this expert, Kleopa’s attorneys were attempting to isolate Kleopa from having to take the stand.
Kleopa’s attorney, Gailin, responded that D’Angelo was trying to eliminate testimony that could exonerate his client. Gailin argued, “The issue is whether he deliberately shot the gun…The expert said the discharge could have been fired by accident. It’s up to the prosecution in cross-examination of an opposing party to give a weight to expert’s opinion.”
Cook County Judge Allen Murphy ruled that, “The only person who can testify to that is Mr. Kleopa on how he fired the firearm…The expert can only testify to the functioning of the gun. [The witness] cannot render any other opinion.” Judge Murphy also ruled that the expert could watch Kleopa demonstrate how he handled the gun in court and then comment.
Commenting on the recently set trial date, Peters’ mother, Catherine Peters-Bird, has said she was relieved that her daughter would finally get some small measure of justice. “I’m ecstatic that there is a date to put this man out there where people can see the truth.”