On the day she allegedly stole a $175,000 winning lottery ticket, Dora Leal was a confused, emotional wreck, mourning the loss of her "baby" dog Pablo, Leal testified in a Cook County courtroom Tuesday.
In fact, Leal's attorney would later tell jurors, Leal was so shaky that had she been "working in a nitroglycerine factory, she could have blown up the whole town."
If that was a plea for sympathy or an explanation for why Leal didn't realize she held a winning lottery ticket, jurors didn't buy it. In less than two hours, a jury found her guilty of stealing the ticket from a group of Chicago traders who'd pooled their money and sent Leal, a clerk, to check for a winner.
Leal and her defense team argued: she never knew she had a winning ticket; perhaps she lost the ticket; maybe one of the traders lost it; or perhaps it's still in the convenience store on South La Salle where it was purchased.
"This is so wrong," Leal said as she tightly hugged her sobbing daughter moments after the verdict was announced. Leal, who had been free on bond, was immediately taken into custody.
It was a noticeably different Leal from the woman who, just hours earlier, was chatty, engaging and smiling -- even as prosecutor Lori Rosen tried to trip her up on the witness stand.
Leal testified that while she was in the convenience store checking the tickets in December 2003, no one ever told her she held a winning ticket.
On Monday, the store owner testified she told Leal she had a big winner. Another witness testified he congratulated Leal and high-fived her. But Leal said that never happened. On the stand, Leal repeatedly said, "Oh, no," shaking her head emphatically.
'I never lose things'
Leal said after checking her tickets, she put them all in her pocket, left the store and then gave them to her boss, one of the traders.
As Leal made denial after denial Tuesday, Rosen turned away from her and occasionally frowned.
But at one point, Rosen asked Leal if she felt "really bad" about the whole incident.
"Yes, because I never lose things," Leal replied.
Rosen didn't ask any more questions.
In closing arguments, Rosen reminded jurors of Leal's testimony.
"By her own admission, she has never lost anything," Rosen said. "By her own admission, she is very organized."
But Leal's lead attorney, Robert Kuzas, said Leal didn't fit the profile of a thief. There's no evidence she ever tried to hide the winning ticket, Kuzas argued. Besides, Kuzas said, the traders eventually received their winnings from the state lottery.
To this day the ticket has never turned up.
Should have stayed home
"This is the kind of case where you can feel good about doing the right thing, and finding my client not guilty," Kuzas said.
At one point Tuesday, Leal testified that she should never have gone to work on that day she is accused of pocketing the ticket.
"I should have just stayed with my girls, and mourned our baby [dog]," she said.
Sentencing is set for Jan. 9. Leal faces probation or a prison term of up to 15 years.