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Judge rejects far-reaching gag order in killing of pregnant teenager whose baby was cut from her womb

Megan Crepeau, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- A Cook County judge declined to impose a far-reaching gag order Tuesday on court proceedings in the gruesome killing of a pregnant teenager whose baby was cut from her womb, rejecting defense attorneys' argument that a flood of public speculation about the case would prejudice potential jurors.

"I will not resort to restricting the public's right of access unless I have to," said Judge Peggy Chiampas, who is presiding over charges against Clarisa and Desiree Figueroa in the killing of both Marlen Ochoa-Lopez, a pregnant 19-year-old, and her son, who lived only a few weeks.

The order sought by attorneys for the Figueroas would have restricted what even Ochoa-Lopez's relatives and friends as well as activists could say outside court. More typically, gag orders are intended to silence attorneys and those more directly involved in higher-profile criminal prosecutions.

At Tuesday's hearing, attorneys for Clarisa Figueroa, 46, and her 25-year-old daughter accused Ochoa-Lopez's supporters of spreading "propaganda," publicly demanding guilty verdicts and life sentences. The massive international publicity attracted by the case would make a fair trial impossible without the gag order, they said.

Attorney Vernon Schleyer, who represents the younger Figueroa, said interested parties could still speak to the news media, but their comments would have to be "truthful" and "based on what's been released to the public so far."

Chiampas declined to impose those restrictions but still cautioned Ochoa-Lopez's survivors that it was in their interest as well to ensure the Figueroas received a fair trial.

The judge went a step further, barring the family from bringing photos and posters into the Leighton Criminal Court Building in an apparent response to their frequent media appearances in the courthouse lobby after court hearings. In June, for instance, supporters held poster-size copies of mugshots of the Figueroas with "GUILTY" emblazoned on their foreheads.

"That is unprofessional, and that will not be tolerated in this building," Chiampas said.

Prosecutors have said the elder Figueroa had announced last October that she was pregnant -- a surprise to family who knew she had her fallopian tubes tied. Over the next several months, she posted photos on Facebook of an ultrasound and a decorated nursery, complete with a crib. She said she would name the baby Xander after a 20-year-old son who died last year, according to prosecutors.


As her phony due date drew near, prosecutors said, she and her daughter plotted to kill a pregnant woman to steal her baby.

Prosecutors have alleged that the Figueroas lured Ochoa-Lopez, who was nine months pregnant, to their home on Chicago's Southwest Side with promises of free baby clothes. Ochoa-Lopez, also a mother of a young child, reached out and touched the nose of the family dog as Clarisa Figueroa, sitting atop her, took an agonizing four to five minutes to strangle her with a cable, prosecutors charged.

After allegedly killing Ochoa-Lopez and cutting the baby from her womb, Figueroa claimed the infant as her own, even seeking money on a crowdfunding site for the critically injured boy, prosecutors said.

The baby, Yovanny Jadiel Lopez, died seven weeks after he was cut from his mother's womb.

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