Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

WAUKEGAN, Ill. — Robert Crimo III was brought Wednesday morning into a courtroom packed with relatives of the seven people killed and nearly 50 injured during a 2022 Fourth of July parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park — a mass killing that officials have said he carried out as a “premeditated and calculated attack.”

For weeks, family members and survivors had been told that Crimo wanted to change his initial plea to guilty. Many had prepared victim impact statements that they hoped to read aloud.

But after a Lake County prosecutor announced in court that the 23-year-old defendant would plead to 55 counts, which would probably mean spending the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole, Circuit Judge Victoria Rossetti turned to Crimo for his acknowledgment. He remained silent, so long that the judge asked if he and his attorney needed to confer. A brief recess followed, and then gut-wrenching news for victims’ loved ones.

Crimo was not prepared to move forward, the public defender announced. Rossetti immediately reset his trial date for Feb. 25.

The courtroom itself stayed quiet; those gathered had been admonished in advance to keep emotions in check and refrain from any outbursts. Their horrified faces were reaction enough, though. And a short time later, after meeting privately with prosecutors, they exited in anger, frustration and raw-again pain. Several noted that the second anniversary of the tragedy is just eight days away.

Leah Sundheim, whose mother, Jacquelyn Sundheim, was among those who died, had hoped the anticipated outcome of the hearing would help her keep healing.

“All I wanted was to be able to fully grieve my mom without the looming trial, knowing that he was going to spend the rest of his life in jail,” Sundheim said. “Instead, we were yet again shown his complete and blatant disregard for humans.”

Attorney Antonio Romanucci, who represents some of the victims’ families in a separate civil action, described “a lot of shock and disappointment.”

“Today,” he said, “you saw absolute, unadulterated evil. … This was a calculated effort on his part to continue the suffering. He enjoyed the theater. He wasn’t looking at this family. He knew he had an audience.”

The defendant, who allegedly opened fire from a rooftop with an AR-style rifle, eluded capture at the 2022 parade by wearing women’s clothing to conceal his identity and fleeing with those trying to get away from the gunfire. He was found on a highway north of Highland Park after an eight-hour search. Prosecutors said his confession provided no definitive motive.

He is charged with 117 counts of murder, attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm. Law enforcement officials accused him of shooting more than 80 rounds from a Smith & Wesson semiautomatic rifle from atop a building overlooking the festivities.

The town where Crimo grew up was left reeling. Victims ranged in age from 35 to 88 and included Irina and Kevin McCarthy, who died shielding their 2-year-old son. An 8-year-old boy, Cooper Roberts, was left paralyzed from the waist down. One spectator put his young son in a dumpster for safety as he scrambled to find and protect other family members.

The military-style rifle used had been legally purchased, according to law enforcement.

Crimo has been held without bond since being apprehended. He was first set to go on trial this February, but the trial was delayed when he briefly demanded to represent himself. His next trial date, with a public defender representing him, had been scheduled for early 2025, which is why victims’ families were ready for an earlier moment of closure when informed of his planned plea.

A heavy police presence was on hand outside the courthouse Wednesday. As Crimo was brought into the courtroom, wearing dark blue prison garb and shackled to a wheelchair, all eyes were on him.

Josh Koskoff, an attorney for Maria Uvaldo, said she would wait as long as it takes to find justice for her husband, Eduardo Uvaldo. Eduardo had “nailed the American Dream,” Koskoff said, and was so patriotic after coming to this country that on the Fourth of July he wore American flag shorts with pride.

Crimo’s parents were both in the courtroom. In November, his father pleaded guilty to seven counts of misdemeanor reckless conduct for allowing his son to obtain firearms despite knowing he had once threatened a shooting at school, in addition to a separate threat to “kill everyone” and a 2019 suicide attempt.

“Robert Crimo Jr. made the reckless and dangerous decision to sponsor his son’s [firearms] application,” Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart noted at the time. “This wasn’t a fishing license. This wasn’t a permission slip to go to the museum.”

Crimo Jr., a well-known resident who once ran for mayor, arrived at the Lake County Courthouse last fall wearing a shirt that read “I’m A Political Pawn” on the front. He was admonished and turned the shirt inside out, then was sentenced to 60 days in jail, two years’ probation and 100 days of public service — far less than the three years in prison he faced at trial. He served 27 days before being released for good behavior.

Following the father’s plea, Rinehart said the case against Crimo Jr. represented a new type of prosecution, one that attempts to hold parents accountable for mass killings by their children.

“Only in America do we grapple with an ocean of firearms,” he said, “and we are drowning in that ocean.”

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#Defendant #Highland #Park #mass #killing #reverses #trial

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