James A. Dutra Sr.

A Berwyn man is seeking a July clemency hearing from Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois Prison Review Board to pardon his 1997 convictions for aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

The two victims were Oak Park and River Forest High School female students. In addition, Dutra was accused, but not convicted, of misdemeanor battery charges against four other girls for unwanted touching. The girls who accused him were between 13 and 16 years old.

“That was a mistake I made in ’96 and I have paid for it 1,000 times over,” said James A. Dutra Sr., who formerly lived in the 1100 block of South Ridgeland Avenue in Oak Park. Dutra, who is now 72 years old, said he wanted to apply to expunge his record so he could get a job.

But the women who accused Dutra don’t believe his conviction should be erased by the governor or anyone else.

Alleged victims Marete Steger, who lives in Forest Park, and Tracey Diederich, of Oak Park, have posted an online petition on the website Change.org asking Quinn to deny clemency to Dutra. More than 500 signatures have been gathered online, and the two are sharing the petition through social media.

“This man [allegedly] irrevocably changed the lives of six beautiful young women,” the petition reads. “They cannot be released from their memories or the after effects, please help us guarantee that he can’t have this erased from his record.”

According to published accounts, Dutra was arrested on Mother’s Day in 1996 after Steger, then a minor, and five other girls told OPRF High School counselors that Dutra had allegedly touched them inappropriately at his home. The six girls were friends of his son, Diederich said.

“This pretty much ruined a lot of our lives,” Diederich alleged. “We never thought this was coming back to haunt us.”

After his arrest, Dutra’s bond was set at $500,000 and he spent more than 100 days in Cook County Jail until his trial and conviction in 1997. Dutra did not go to prison, but was sentenced to time served, said Terry Reilly, an assistant Cook County state’s attorney who works in the post-conviction unit. Dutra was listed on the Illinois sex offender list for 10 years, until 2007.

He was arrested in Berwyn in 2005 for being within 500 feet of a park. That charge was reduced to a misdemeanor, Dutra said, because he was never told the new rules for sex offenders after laws were changed.

Dutra said he was given four years of probation, four years of sexual therapy and six months of being confined to his home when he was not at work.

“I did my time. I paid for my crime. I feel like I’m entitled to a fresh start,” Dutra told the Forest Park Review June 12.

Clemency request upsets victims

According to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Dutra applied for a July 23 hearing to have his record expunged.

“The [alleged] victims in this case are understandably upset,” said Reilly. “[Dutra] is basically requesting a pardon.”

The Victim’s Assistance Unit sent a letter to the Oak Park home of the mother of one victim of the sexual abuse convictions, announcing that Dutra was requesting a hearing for a pardon.

“We found out about it by accident, because one of the girl’s mothers still happens to live in Oak Park,” said Steger.

The Illinois Prisoner Review Board will make a determination in a meeting closed to the public and will present a recommendation to Quinn, who may or may not take the advice of the review board.

Dutra defended himself Wednesday, saying he only was guilty of the felony convictions, not the other accusations.

“I touched two young ladies in their breast,” Dutra said. “That was a mistake and I’m ashamed of myself for doing it.”

Dutra said the other girls accused him falsely in court because they were angry he wouldn’t allow them to hold a party in his house with “alcohol and beer.”

“[The four girls] lied like rugs during the trial,” Dutra said.

But Diederich said Dutra was the one who was lying.

Dietrich said the request for a pardon “rehashes the past for all his [alleged] victims. He should not have the right to do this.”

“I was his victim,” Diederich claimed. “I have no problem with all 372 of my Facebook friends knowing that,” she said. “He can’t victimize me again. He’s my victim now.”

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...