Charles C. Gozzola, 49, of Wonder Lake, (inset) was acquitted this week on charges stemming from an incident that prompted the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office and Wonder Lake Police Department to respond to the 8700 block of Pebble Creek Court in Wonder Lake on January 31, 2024, following a domestic battery incident in Crystal Lake. | Background Photo: Tracy Mathesius; Inset: Provided

A judge acquitted a convicted murderer of battering his wife at a gym in Crystal Lake following a trial where multiple eyewitnesses testified to seeing the incident.

Charles C. Gozzola, 49, of Wonder Lake, was initially charged in January with one count of domestic battery, a Class A misdemeanor.

He was later charged in February with domestic battery enhanced, a Class 4 felony, and aggravated battery in a public place, a Class 3 felony.

The charges stemmed from a domestic incident that occurred around 12:30 p.m. on January 31 near Planet Fitness, 5320 Northwest Highway in Crystal Lake.

Witnesses advised that a man battered a woman several times before entering a vehicle and fleeing the area, according to the Wonder Lake Police Department.

The alert provided officers with a suspect description and vehicle description and officers identified the suspect as Gozzola.

McHenry County Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Miller said that the victim was Gozzola’s wife.

The woman was struck in the head with a water bottle and pulled into a vehicle against her will, Miller said.

Prosecutors said three eyewitnesses observed the victim and Gozzola enter the parking lot after exiting the gym.

The witnesses reported that Gozzola pulled the woman by her wrist and arm towards a white pickup truck, chest bumped her and struck her on the head with a water bottle while making “threatening and/or harassing comments towards her,” prosecutors said.

Wonder Lake officers located the vehicle at the couple’s residence in the 8700 block of Pebble Creek Court in Wonder Lake around 12:50 p.m. that day.

Officers obtained probable cause that Gozzola and the victim were located inside a residence, police officials said.

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The McHenry County Sheriff’s Police, McCullom Lake Police Department and the Wonder Lake Fire Protection District responded to the incident.

Officers attempted to make contact with the occupants but were unsuccessful.

“Exigent circumstances” existed due to imminent concerns for the safety and well-being of the victim, police officials said at the time.

Officers forced entry to the residence and located the victim and Gozzola around 1:45 p.m.

The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office and Wonder Lake Police Department respond to the 8700 block of Pebble Creek Court in Wonder Lake after a wanted domestic battery suspect and victim were located at a residence on January 31, 2024. | Photo: Tracy Mathesius

Officers arrested Gozzola pursuant to criminal charges from the Crystal Lake Police Department and provided medical treatment for the victim.

In 2002, Gozzola was convicted of second-degree murder in Cook County for fatally shooting his then-wife.

The Chicago Tribune reported in 2000 that Gozzola tried staging the murder as a suicide and then tried framing his two young children in the shooting.

Court records show Gozzola’s attorney, Clay Mitchell, filed a motion in early March to have one of his two charges, enhanced domestic battery, dismissed.

The domestic battery charge is a Class 4 felony instead of the typical Class A misdemeanor because prosecutors said Gozzola has a previous conviction for the second-degree murder of his prior wife, which they argued qualifies as a previous domestic-related conviction.

Illinois statute defines numerous convictions that qualify for the enhanced domestic battery charge, including domestic battery and first-degree murder, among many other offenses.

It does not specifically state that a prior second-degree murder conviction qualifies for the enhanced charge but the statute includes a catch-all “for any offense that is substantially similar to the offenses listed in this Section, when any of these offenses have been committed against a family or household member.”

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Mitchell argued the indictment did not state the necessary prior conviction to have the charge enhanced from a misdemeanor to a felony.

McHenry County Assistant State’s Attorney Ashur Youash said that although Gozzola was not specifically convicted of domestic battery, there is case law establishing that the second-degree murder conviction of his prior wife qualifies as a crime of domestic battery, the Northwest Herald reported.

McHenry County Judge Mark Gerhardt granted the motion and dismissed the felony domestic battery charge during a hearing in April.

Gerhardt said prosecutors “misinformed” the grand jury regarding the law. He called that “substantial” and a “miscarriage of justice” that could have led to longer sentencing for Gozzola, the Herald reported.

Gozzola was initially released at the time of his arrest after McHenry County Judge Jennifer Johnson denied prosecutors’ detention petition.

Prosecutors asked for several conditions of pre-trial release but Johnson did not impose a firearm surrender for Gozzola and also did not issue a no-contact order between him and the victim.

The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office and Wonder Lake Police Department respond to the 8700 block of Pebble Creek Court in Wonder Lake after a wanted domestic battery suspect and victim were located at a residence on January 31, 2024. | Photo: Tracy Mathesius

Miller argued in a motion that the court should have imposed those two conditions pursuant to state law.

On the same day Gozzola was released in early February, the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office responded to two 911 calls made by neighbors who were concerned about fighting coming from the couple’s home.

Deputies met with Gozzola and his wife and the victim was again uncooperative and said nothing happened, Miller said.

Miller said Gozzola was not arrested because there was no prior court order in place restricting him from being around his wife.

McHenry County Judge Michael Feetterer granted prosecutors’ request to have Gozzola detained pending trial during a subsequent court hearing.

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Feetterer found that Gozzola posed a real and present threat to the community or victim and that there were no conditions of release that could mitigate the risk.

“Three different witnesses saw the defendant batter his wife in a public location. There is little motive for three strangers to fabricate seeing the battery,” Feetterer said at the time.

The judge said Gozzola is a danger to his wife based on the domestic battery incident and because of his conviction for killing his previous wife.

Late last month, Gozzola went on trial for his remaining charges of aggravated battery and misdemeanor domestic battery.

Gerhardt on Monday found Gozzola not guilty on both charges and released him from custody.

Gerhardt said the prosecution’s witnesses who testified to what they saw gave “contradictory” testimony that gave the judge “reasonable doubt,” the Northwest Herald reported.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said the alleged victim in the case denied the abuse.

“Domestic battery cases where the alleged victim, as in this case, denied the abuse are incredibly difficult cases to prove. We at the SAO understand why some victims of domestic battery attempt to protect their abusers from prosecution, and will continue to prosecute those types of cases when circumstances demand,” Kenneally told Lake and McHenry County Scanner in a statement.

“That said, the verdict was somewhat surprising, especially in view of the multiple independent eye-witness testimony to the alleged abuse,” Kenneally said.