Chicago Tribune


By Art Barnum and Ted Gregory
Tribune Staff Writers
March 9, 1999

Three days after police found her lying semiconscious near her slain daughter, Marilyn Lemak of Naperville was wheeled into a DuPage County courtroom Monday morning for her initial appearance on charges that she suffocated her three young children.

Shortly after 8 a.m., a sheriff's deputy rolled Lemak in a wheelchair before Judge Stephen Culliton. She wore a dark blue two-piece jail outfit, heavy bandages on her right arm and a tired, sullen look.

Her attorney, John Donahue, approached her, bent over and softly spoke a few words.

She responded with what appeared to be several short sentences.

"I met with her briefly, to calm her down, really," Donahue said of his meeting with Lemak outside the courtroom immediately before Monday's hearing. He added that the conversation was "limited because of her zombie-like condition."

Once in court, though, Lemak was able to communicate with her attorney. She remained seated to his left as Donahue told the judge he would not request that bond be set at this time. Even so, the judge ordered that Lemak be held without bond.

Donahue requested and received Culliton's permission to have a forensic psychologist examine Lemak at DuPage County Jail over the next several days.

Donahue and the county's chief criminal prosecutor, Michael Wolfe, said the purpose of the planned psychiatric exam was to see what state she was in--"to interview her and see what happens from there," Donahue said.

Although such examinations are rare this early in a criminal case, and generally are given to determine fitness to stand trial, the attorneys agreed that Lemak's initial exam was needed to determine her current mental status and to ensure she understood the proceedings.

A family on Monday carries a teddy bear to lay as a memorial to the Lemak children at the Lemaks' home in Naperville. (Tribune photo by Mario Petitti)

Donahue said he had argued with authorities Sunday over whether Lemak was physically and psychologically well enough to be moved to the jail from Edward Hospital in Naperville, where she had been undergoing treatment. But Donahue declined to elaborate.

He also said he had advised Lemak's family to stay away from Monday's hearing. Donahue said the court hearing would be short, relatives would have had no contact with her and would have been besieged by reporters.

No one from either side of the family attended the hearing. Except for her brief exchange of words with Donahue, Lemak stared straight ahead. She said nothing to the judge and was asked nothing.

Monica Sampias, spokeswoman for DuPage Sheriff John Zaruba, said Lemak is being held in a 24-hour surveillance unit, where a deputy keeps watch outside her room. Sampias said it is not solitary confinement, but Lemak is not allowed to mix with other prisoners and eats her meals in her cell.

When she was brought in and booked Sunday, Lemak was not talkative but answered all routine questions, said Sampias, who described Lemak as "cogent."

After the hearing, Donahue said that based on his limited conversations with Lemak, he had not reached any decision on possible fitness or insanity defenses.

Lemak is expected to be indicted by a DuPage County grand jury before her next court date March 29 before Judge George Bakalis.

The next hearing in her divorce case against her estranged husband, David Lemak, is scheduled for Thursday, the day their three children are to be buried. The lawyers will meet in the judge's chambers without the Lemaks present.

Daniel L. Kuhn, who has been representing Marilyn Lemak in her divorce case since December, said the couple recently had agreed to joint custody. The children were to live with Marilyn and spend every other weekend with David, who also would have their three children--Nicholas, 7; Emily, 6; and Thomas, 3--overnights on Tuesdays.

David Lemak's father, Albert, has said Marilyn had told her husband about a year ago that she did not want to be married to him anymore.

Asked why Marilyn Lemak had sought a divorce, one source close to the couple said: "She talked about why, but I don't feel I can talk about it. If I told you, you'd say, 'Is that it?' It was nothing sordid. It was just one of those unfortunate unravelings."

The source also discounted any possible financial pressures.

"This family had the liquidity that they were going to weather that. . . . This was not a family in financial distress," the source said.

David Lemak's divorce attorney, Anita Donath, would not comment, except to say, "As you know, my client is devastated by this."

Away from Monday's brief legal proceeding, Naperville residents continued to grapple with the chilling news.

Naperville Mayor George Pradel said his town will hold its breath Thursday when the Lemak children are laid to rest.

"That's not going to be easy for any of us," Pradel said.

He said the killings bruised the spirit of his town, honored in 1997 as the most kid-friendly city in the U.S.

"In Naperville, people still care about each other," he said. "Everyone here really believes and knows that--and people still worry about their neighbors. That's why this hurt so much."

"If this has done anything to Naperville, it's given us a jolt and let us know we should care even a little bit more."

Pradel, a former city police officer, lives about six blocks from the Lemak house and often drives past it.

"Here's a tragedy that involved someone who must have been crying out for help--and we missed it," he said.

Tribune staff writers Janan Hanna and Jeff Coen contributed to this report.

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