D’Andre Howard has been convicted of first-degree murder and attempted murder in one of the grisliest crimes in the northwest suburbs in recent years. With the verdict, jurors rejected Howard’s claims that he was insane when he killed three members of his fiancee’s family in 2009.
Howard was calm as the guilty verdict was announced by jurors who spent less than two hours deliberating. He now faces a mandatory life sentence in the stabbing deaths of Laura Engelhardt, 18; her father Alan Engelhardt, 57; and her grandmother Marlene Gacek, 73; and the attack on Laura’s mother, Shelly Engelhardt, who survived with serious injuries.
After the verdict was announced, Jeff Engelhardt, who lost his sister, father and grandmother in the attack, said he was satisfied that Howard will spent the rest of his life in prison.
In response to a question about whether he would prefer Howard receive the death penalty, which has been outlawed in Illinois since Howard committed the crimes, Jeff Engelhardt said: "Violence in response to violence only produces more violence. Life is prison is enough."
Jeff Engelhardt also said that none of his family members – who had embraced Howard as one of their own after he began dating another Engelhardt daughter, Amanda, with whom he has a daughter – ever thought Howard was capable of committing such a horrific crime.
"I will say he took away three great people, and he should feel sorry for his daughter," Jeff Engelhardt said. He was away at college when the attack occurred.
Earlier today, jurors were given two starkly contrasting views of Howard in closing arguments.
Howard was portrayed as mentally ill by his Cook County public defenders and as a calculating murderer by prosecutors.
"The Tony Awards are coming up, and one of the great actors is sitting right here in this courtroom. His nonsensical testimony should be given an award," said Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Mike Gerber. "He knew what he was doing. He tried to clean up but there was too much blood. These are the actions of a person who knows exactly what he’s doing."
Assistant Public Defender Deana Binstock countered: "You don’t kill your family if you are in your right mind. You don’t turn on your loved ones. D’Andre was afflicted with mental illness."
Howard, 26, did not deny that he stabbed the four family members in their Hoffman Estates home in 2009.
Monday, nearly a week into his murder trial, Howard spent about three hours testifying in his own defense, saying he was hearing voices and loud noises in his head when he tied up his fiancée Amanda Engelhardt and her mother Shelly Engelhardt and told them he was going to torture and murder the family in front of them.
When Laura Engelhardt woke up, Howard tied her up, too, but when he untied her briefly, she wrestled the knife from him and stabbed him superficially in the arm. That apparently set him off, and he started to wave his arms wildly, stabbing Laura and Shelly Engelhardt multiple times.
He later attacked Gacek and Alan Engelhardt as they each emerged from their upstairs bedrooms.
Shelly Engelhardt survived the attack.
In his closing arguments, Gerber said Howard tried to claim he was crazy after first suggesting he was a victim and then trying to claim self-defense. Gerber noted that the first thing Howard said when paramedics arrived was that he’d been cut.
"The only voices this guy heard were the voices of these people begging for their lives," Gerber said.
Binstock said there was clear evidence of a mental disorder and noted that Shelly Engelhardt had told emergency room doctors that Howard had gone crazy. She said mental health professionals who interviewed Howard said that someone with psychosis and delusions can seem alert, oriented and appropriate in their actions.
The mental health professionals, however, had testified that Howard did not appear psychotic, but one said he did suffer from schizoaffective disorder.
Howard has been in custody since the April 2009 murders. Amanda Engelhardt, who was present but not injured during the attack, and Shelly Engelhardt both testified against Howard. The two of them still live in the home where the attack took place, along with Howard and Amanda’s daughter.
Speaking briefly after the verdict, Shelly Engelhardt said: "My family will move forward with kind memories of our loving heroes in our hearts."
Donna Gasparas, Alan Engelhardt’s sister, traveled from out of state for the trial.
"We’re just relieved," she said. "I can’t say we have closure because it won’t ever be closure without having them in our life again. But we’re all relieved."
One of Howard’s public defenders said the verdict will be appealed because the judge had not allowed them to present more information about Howard’s past struggles with mental illness.
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