Marilyn Lemak's mind was sound and her motive was vengeance on the late winter day when she drugged her daughter and two sons and then smothered them with her hands, a DuPage County jury decided Wednesday.
Rejecting any notion that the Naperville woman was mentally impaired on March 4, 1999, the six-man, six-woman jury deliberated for nearly 10 hours before finding her guilty of murder.
"It was a heinous act," said juror Lataurus Collins, 21, a UPS supervisor from Glendale Heights and single mother of a 14-month-old daughter. "I have little sympathy for her. I thought she was spoiled [and] controlling."
When Lemak couldn't manipulate her estranged husband any more, jurors said, she looked for retribution. "She had anger toward David Lemak," said juror Giovanni Lombardo. "She had jealousy ... and revenge."
Several jurors said the most convincing testimony came from Tammy Bottigliero, a friend who encountered an obviously distraught Lemak hours before the murders and offered to baby-sit the children. She testified that Lemak responded with an adamant "No!"
Had Lemak accepted her offer, "it would've interfered with her premeditated plan to kill her children," Collins said.
Jurors said they took at least five votes over two days. In the first, a secret ballot, 11 voted for either guilty or "guilty but mentally ill," jurors said. One juror voted for "not guilty by reason of insanity" but quickly switched when she learned she was the only not guilty vote, other jurors said.
The rest of the deliberations were a reasoned discussion over whether Lemak had some sort of mental impairment or whether her actions were calculated, said Collins, whose own guilty vote never changed.
The uncompromising verdicts stood in sharp relief to the words that followed outside the courtroom from Lemak's former husband, physician David Lemak, the father of the slain children.
Struggling to maintain his composure, he insisted he had always loved "Lynn" and refused to call for her execution, saying that was the prosecutors' decision to make.
He urged others to draw lessons from the tragedy. "All of us, every one of us, has the potential to do terrible things," Lemak said. "And if we can accept that possibility and understand that it's simply a choice to say `no' to those urges, then we can really live our lives well."
Lemak held up a framed photograph of himself with the three children, each grinning broadly as they hugged their father. "Certainly, one of my regrets," he said, "is that I won't have a chance to see what kind of impact on the world they could have made."
DuPage County State's Atty. Joseph Birkett said his office will review whether to ask Judge George Bakalis to sentence Lemak to death; her minimum sentence would be life in prison. Birkett invited lead defense attorney John Donahue to provide him with any additional information to help make that decision. Both sides will file pre-sentencing motions by Feb. 13. Early this year, Birkett offered the 44-year-old Lemak life in prison, but she rejected it.
Lemak, who had quaked and rocked throughout much of her three-week trial, sat nearly still as a court clerk read the unanimous verdicts in order of the young victims' births: first Nicholas, 7, then Emily, 6, and finally Thomas, 3.
David Lemak clenched his jaw and squeezed the hand of his wife, Janice, whose relationship with him provided the trigger for the slayings, according to prosecutors.
Lemak's father, William Morrissey, bit his lips as the verdicts were read, his eyes welling up with tears, as he grabbed the hand of his wife, Carol. "We're completely devastated," Morrissey said outside the courtroom. "We never expected this verdict."
Defense to appeal
Donahue vowed to appeal on behalf of the Morrisseys. "They love their daughter, and they certainly don't want her subjected to the death penalty," he said. "We'll fight tooth-and-nail to avoid that."
Soon after resuming deliberations Wednesday morning, jurors had asked the judge for notes that two forensic psychiatrists--Lyle Rossiter for the defense and Syed Ali for the prosecution--had taken of their jailhouse interviews with Lemak.
One of the jurors wanted to know if Rossiter had asked a leading question of Lemak in his interviews. Prosecutors had said Rossiter and Lemak in effect concocted her insanity defense during those sessions.
The judge refused to give them the experts' notes because they were not entered as evidence. But juror Tom O'Meara said the panel decided it wasn't necessary to wait the four hours it would take to have the testimony transcribed. "Fortunately, we took very good notes," he said.
O'Meara said his vote hinged on a number of factors, including how one defense expert's testimony seemed to contradict photographs of the inside of the family's home showing a generally tidy place.
"The defense expert said she was going downhill, that she was disorganized and not cleaning her house. But all thepictures showed that wasn't the case," O'Meara said. "They should have prepared their witness better." After the verdicts, David Lemak spoke in a sad but even voice that evoked his eulogy of his three children in a Naperville church nearly three years ago.
After the murders, "one of my first responses was, `Why didn't she take me?'" he said. "But then I began to realize she had a reason for not taking me."
He said that in the days after the murders he thought of killing himself.
"What it boiled down to for me was--just take one decision, which is, `Do you wish to live? Do you wish to use this precious gift that you've been given, life?' Once you decide that you're going to live, all the other decisions get much easier."
He thanked prosecutors and the jury. "To be sure, I was anxious and not sure that the jury would have the courage to listen to [the testimony] and act on that," Lemak said. "For their courage, I thank them."
`I miss my children'
His voice then broke and after a long pause he said: "I miss my children dearly. But I'm helped greatly by knowing that there are so many other people--family, friends, people that I barely know--who expressed to me their love for them."
Repeatedly, he declined to condemn the woman he met when he was training to be a doctor, she a nurse. The couple married in 1985.
"I loved Lynn," Lemak said. "She made choices throughout the last few years of our marriage, and those choices took her to a path that leads to where she is now."
Lemak politely dodged a question about the testimony of psychiatrists and psychologists during the trial regarding his ex-wife's sanity.
"With all respect to my colleagues, I think that it's an educated guess," he replied. "And I firmly believe that all of us have the ability to sort through all of the information just as well and come to our own conclusions and be just as right."
Jurors, in fact, said the dozen competing mental-health experts largely canceled each other out. Panel members said they didn't believe the experts could divine Lemak's truthfulness any better than they could. "They didn't persuade us to either side," Collins said.
Donahue, the lead defense attorney, tearfully embraced the Morrisseys in the courthouse. "They're the most stand-up people I've had the pleasure of meeting under the circumstances," Donahue said, adding that he worried his client would either commit suicide or be attacked by other inmates in prison.
Prosecutors repeated that the slayings were "borne out of anger and revenge and not insanity."
"This trial has been about seeking justice on behalf of Thomas, who would be 6, Nicholas, who would be 10 now, and Emily, who would be 9 next week, on Christmas Eve," Birkett said.
The entire family he said has "been to hell and back," he added. "They've lost more than any of us can comprehend."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun