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Standoff Trial: Sorrentino says he didn't mean to pull trigger

Jeffery Sorrentino
Jeffery Sorrentino

Peru man Jeffery Sorrentino went on trial Thursday claiming he stood off police last fall, because he thought the federal government had come to kill him, and although he fired a shot at police, didn't intend to do so.

Sorrentino, 57, is charged with firing Sept. 25 at La Salle County Sheriff Tom Templeton and Sheriff's Lt. Dave Guinee. The sheriff's office went to Sorrentino's foreclosed home to remove him. After firing the shot, which did not hit anyone, Sorrentino holed up in the house for almost 12 hours before surrendering.

The house is on U. S. 6, just west of Peru's downtown.

Sorrentino opted to skip a jury and instead have Chief Judge H. Chris Ryan Jr. decide guilt or innocence.

Guinee testified Thursday police had done homework before going to Sorrentino's house, determining Sorrentino could be dangerous. They had hoped to encounter him outside the house, but had been unable to do so.

Guinee also testified, as did Templeton, about their experience when they approached the front door and a shot from an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle zinged through the door at an upward angle, piercing the soffit and fascia. No one was injured and the bullet was not found.

Sorrentino testified that when he saw men clad in military-style clothes outside his home —who were local police — he believed the federal government had sent troops to remove him from the house by killing him. Sorrentino said that in anticipation authorities would be coming to remove him, he had barricaded doors a few days earlier.

According to Sorrentino, the sight of authorities prompted him to load an AK-47 rifle. However, he then stumbled and accidentally fired through the door.

Recordings were played in court of phone calls between Sorrentino and police, one was made by Sorrentino to the sheriff's office and the other was later made to Sorrentino by a police negotiator. Sorrentino's cellphone minutes began running low during the standoff, so police used a drone to drop him another phone.

In the recordings, Sorrentino swore and used racial slurs. He complained of losing his job a few years ago and then facing foreclosure, with the federal government failing to respond to his requests for help. Sorrentino said his house had belonged to his grandparents.

Sorrentino told police he wanted media attention and demanded a federal representative come to the scene. He also threatened a mini-holocaust if police tried to enter, saying he had a deadly virus in his refrigerator and the house was rigged to explode.

"They can drag my dead body from this smouldering home. Nobody wants to f------ listen. I have nothing left to lose. I'll take this whole f------ town with me, because I don't care," Sorrentino was recorded saying in a sometimes even and sometimes agitated voice.

At another point, Sorrentino admitted he deliberately squeezed the trigger, but placed the shot high enough to miss officers. However, he said he would aim for them if they tried to rush him.

Police said after Sorrentino surrendered, they found enough guns and ammunition in the house to fill the beds of two pickup trucks. Among the guns, besides the AK-47, were two AR-15 rifles.

Dr. Ryan Finkenbine, a psychiatrist who examined Sorrentino, also testified, saying Sorrentino is delusional, a condition difficult to treat. The doctor added that in the examination, Sorrentino spent much time blaming the federal government for his troubles.

Question had been raised earlier in the case about Sorrentino's mental fitness, but he was found fit.

A video recording was played in court, which was taken by a person across the street, showing the front of Sorrentino's house and police a moment after the shot was fired.

Trial is to resume Tuesday, with closing arguments from the prosecution and defense. Assistant State's Attorney Matt Kidder is prosecuting, with Peru lawyer Douglas Olivero defending.

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