Chicago Tribune

DEFENSE SAYS JAIL SAFER THAN HOSPITAL FOR LEMAK

By Art Barnum
Tribune Staff Writer
March 16, 1999

Marilyn Lemak is so suicidal that jail, not a hospital psychiatric ward, is the safest place for the Naperville mother charged with murder in the deaths of her three children, her attorney said in court Monday.

John Donahue had requested Monday's hearing to ask that Lemak be moved from the jail, but he said he changed his mind based on exams by a forensic psychiatrist.

"She is highly suicidal, and we feel comfortable in the situation she is in now. A jail guard is face to face with her 24 hours a day, only 5 feet away," Donahue told DuPage Circuit Judge George Bakalis.

The hearing likely was the first of many that will deal with Lemak's mental condition before and after the March 4 slayings of her three children: Nicholas, 7, Emily, 6, and Thomas, 3.

Lemak, 41, sat through the proceedings in a wheelchair, her head down and her lips moving, though she said nothing. At times, her breathing appeared labored.

Court personnel had expected her to walk into court but found her too wobbly to stand on her own.

For the first time, Donahue invoked the possibility of an insanity defense for Lemak, although he did so only to point out that he does not yet know if it will be used in this case.

Lemak's husband, David Lemak, an emergency-room physician, was not in court Monday.

Donahue also revealed Monday that Marilyn Lemak may have undergone "neurological testing" at Hinsdale Hospital within the past five years, and he was given permission from the judge to get records of any tests.

After the hearing, the attorney said information about the tests was sketchy, but he said he learned of the procedures from the woman's family.

During and after the hearing, Donahue portrayed Lemak as withdrawn and barely cogent.

"I don't know if she understands me," he said. "I say something and she nods. Her speech is very limited."

Donahue also opened the door to the possibility that Lemak's depression is only part of her mental troubles.

"It's possible there were some pre-existing conditions, areas that may come to light that have nothing to do with depression," he said. "There are other avenues to be explored."

Most of Monday's hearing was spent determining which medical records could be used to explore Lemak's mental state and who would be permitted to examine her in jail.

To date, Dr. Lyle Rossiter, a forensic psychiatrist hired by Lemak's defense lawyer, has been the only mental-health expert to visit her in jail.

Donahue said it was on Rossiter's advice that he decided not to ask that Lemak be transferred to a psychiatric ward.

The first mention of a possible insanity defense came when DuPage State's Atty. Joseph Birkett asked that mental-health experts hired by prosecutors be allowed to examine Lemak.

Those examinations would presumably be necessary only to rebut or confirm defense claims that Lemak was insane.

Donahue said it was too early for that, however.

"We are in a preliminary investigation," Donahue said. "We haven't any solid information yet about a possible insanity defense."

After the hearing, Donahue said he remains unaware of any event that might have triggered the killings.

Police sources have said that Lemak was troubled by her pending divorce. The sources have said that Lemak told detectives she killed the children and tried to kill herself in part because her husband had started dating again and she feared that might have implications for the children's future.

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