PEORIA — A group of men accused of a series of brazen home invasions apparently tested tactics on victims one of them knew before turning their sights on random residents.
One of the masked men who snuck into Matt Anderson's house over the summer with a gun and a willingness to tie up children apparently had been there before — as a frequent, trusted guest and friend of the very kids who ended up bound with their own shoe laces at gunpoint.
"He's been in my house, he's played Xbox with my kids," Anderson said. "He's a little bit older than them, but when I told them who it was, they just were just like, 'Why?' … They liked him, he was their friend."
The home invasion in the early morning hours of July 7at 6403 N. Devonshire Drive was the first of what would become an anxiety-inducing, months-long trend that finally ebbed this week with the arrests of four suspects.
Picked up Monday was Perry J. Rosetto, 43, of 1906 N. Ellis St. According to authorities, he gave up others who were arrested Tuesday: Blair A. Johnson, 20, of 2318 W. Albany Ave.; Stefan T. Crayton, 19, of 601 W. Romeo B. Garrett Ave., 4201; and Marvin Payton, 22, of 1108 W. Millman St. A fifth man, 22-year-old Lorenzo D. Crayton, was taken into custody Tuesday but is expected to be released without charge.
For more than five years, through late 2011 or early 2012, Johnson lived next door to the Andersons and interacted with them on a regular basis. When Anderson's children would go outside and see Johnson, they would run up to talk to him. They looked up to him.
But in the middle of that July night, as Anderson and his four children, as well as a neighbor child who was sleeping over, were tied up, the oldest boy, then 14, dared to ask a question of his captors. The masked man, whoever it was, responded by pistol whipping the boy.
For that and everything else his family endured over those harrowing midnight hours, Anderson said Johnson and the others should pay: "I hope they get nailed to the wall."
Members of the crew were booked into the Peoria County Jail on dozens of felony charges apiece Monday and Tuesday after a CrimeStoppers tip led police to Rosetto. According to a statement of probable cause read in court Wednesday, he has admitted to his role in several home invasions and identified his cohorts to investigators.
"He implicated himself in several of these home invasions," Assistant Peoria County State's Attorney Steve Patelli said, adding that Rosetto also sought to minimize his role despite being caught with items taken during some of the crimes. "He indicated he stood outside and acted as a lookout."
Page 2 of 2 - Only three of the men were formally charged Wednesday, and those charges specifically related to only one of the home invasions — the incident at the home of Ron "Doc" and Mari Halliday, 4331 Longmeadow Court, on Sept. 19.
Rosetto, Johnson and Stefan Crayton each were charged with Class X felonies of home invasion and armed robbery. Because handguns are alleged to have been used in the commission of the crime, they face up to 45 years on each count.
All three men appeared in court over closed circuit television from the Peoria County Jail wearing black-and-white striped jumpsuits. They spoke only to acknowledge their identities and were each ordered held in lieu of $500,000 bond. Payton, who was released from prison Aug. 5 after serving almost a year for two Peoria County burglary convictions in 2010, is subject to a parole hold. Further charges against all four men are pending.
Patelli said Johnson did not cooperate with police when he was apprehended. Aside from statements given by Rosetto, an independent witness saw Johnson quickly unloading a vehicle stolen from the Hallidays at a storage facility in the 400 block of East Moneta Avenue in Peoria Heights shortly after that home invasion.
The Hallidays' vehicle and several others stolen during home invasions — including the Andersons — were abandoned near that storage facility. But one vast difference remains between the home invasions at the homes of the Hallidays and the Andersons.
"It appears from what we have here that (the Hallidays) were selected at random from an open door," Peoria County State's Attorney Jerry Brady said after the bond hearing.
The realization that he was known by his attacker gave Anderson a better — although still incomplete — understanding of why he was selected, even if he'll never know what would motivate someone he treated well to subject him and his children to such violence.
"At least now I know why," Anderson said of Johnson. "He knew me. He knew my habits. … He knew our house just about better than anybody."
Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.