A downstate woman was stranded far from home with an ex-con prison pen pal when she got sucked into an Orland Park carjacking, her lawyer said as her trial kicked off Thursday at the Bridgeview courthouse.
The night of the July 2012 carjacking was a "very frightful evening" for April Schmidt, said her attorney, Marc Gottreich.
Schmidt, 24, along with 25-year-old Jonathan Sarolas, allegedly waylaid a Red Lobster waitress in the restaurant's parking lot as she was coming off the night shift.
Schmidt discovered Sarolas on a prison pen pal website and started "stupidly" corresponding with him, Gottreich said. Sarolas, a Homer Glen resident, was doing time for burglary and stolen car convictions out of Will County.
When Sarolas got out of prison Schmidt "stupidly" came up for a visit, Gottreich said, and before long found herself unable to make the 270 mile trip back to Granite City, where she was living with her mother and child.
Gottreich did concede that Schmidt bought the look-alike Beretta BB gun Sarolas used to carjack 25-year-old Marissa Alvarado.
"My client was dumb but not criminally liable for this," Gottreich said.
Prosecutors maintain that Schmidt was in on it with Sarolas from the beginning.
Sarolas pleaded guilty in February. He is back in prison, doing a 12-year sentence and conceivably writing letters.
Alvarado testified Thursday, as did a co-worker from the Red Lobster and three Orland Park police officers. Cook County Judge John Joseph Hynes set a date next week for testimony to continue.
Schmidt allegedly hid in some bushes while Sarolas menaced Alvarado with the BB gun, then emerged to jump in the car just before he sped off. The police cornered the stolen Honda Civic on a dead-end street after a short chase. Sarolas escaped into a nearby woods but Schmidt stumbled and fell as she climbed out of the slowly rolling car, police said.
Gottreich established that Schmidt never made a clear effort to get up again and run off. He also said she was key to apprehending Sarolas, who "never would have been caught" without her.
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