Chicago Tribune

Lemak faces her sentencing

Ex-husband set to speak in court

By Jeff Coen, Tribune staff reporter.
Tribune staff reporter Art Barnum contributed to this report
Chicago Tribune
April 8, 2002

David Lemak and wife, Janice Ryan, leave the DuPage County Courthouse.
David Lemak and wife, Janice Ryan, leave the DuPage County Courthouse. (Tribune photo by Ed Wagner )
With life in prison considered likely for convicted child-killer Marilyn Lemak, the victim-impact statement her ex-husband is expected to deliver Monday has become the most anticipated part of her scheduled sentencing hearing.

David Lemak has crafted a compelling statement of his loss and the devastating effect the deaths have had on his life, prosecutors said.

Lemak had limited himself to emotional but measured remarks just after the Naperville woman's conviction last year for the 1999 slayings of their three children.

Marilyn Lemak, 44, is expected to be sentenced at 2 p.m. in the DuPage County Judicial Center in Wheaton, but Judge George Bakalis could delay the proceedings for a hearing on alleged problems with one of the jurors who found Lemak guilty of first-degree murder.

All parties in the case expect that Marilyn Lemak will receive a sentence of life in the Illinois Department of Corrections. Earlier this year, prosecutors stepped back from a pledge to seek the death penalty for the former surgical nurse.

At the three-week trial, Lemak's defense team described her as a troubled woman whose sanity slipped away under major depression as her marriage to David Lemak, an emergency room physician, crumbled.

They told the jury of six men and six women that Lemak was insane March 4, 1999, when she doped Nicholas, 7, Emily, 6, and Thomas, 3, with her sleep medication, then smothered them with her hands.

Prosecutors countered by arguing that a vengeful Lemak killed her children in their beds in an act of ultimate punishment against her estranged husband, who had begun dating a nurse he worked with. He has since divorced Lemak and married the woman.

After the verdict was handed down Dec. 19, jurors called Lemak an angry and controlling person who wanted to hurt her husband in the worst way imaginable.

One juror, Thomas O'Meara of Naperville, told the Tribune he "thought she was guilty from the beginning" and called Lemak's insanity defense "garbage."

Those comments drew the attention of Lemak's attorneys, who want Bakalis to allow them to question O'Meara. The remark could show the juror had decided Lemak was guilty before hearing testimony, a predisposition that should have precluded him from hearing the case.

Lemak's defenders also have taken issue with O'Meara's family tie to state's witness Kathleen O'Meara, a one-time friend of Lemak's from Naperville who testified about the defendant's emotional state before the killings. Both O'Mearas have verified that Thomas O'Meara is the cousin of Kathleen O'Meara's father but said they did not discover the link until the trial was over.

The attorneys have said they want to explore whether the relation could cast doubt on Thomas O'Meara's impartiality.

Thomas O'Meara, on a pretrial questionnaire, answered that he did not know anyone on the list of possible witnesses, the attorneys have said.

Prosecutors have discounted the defense complaints, but chief Lemak attorney John Donahue said last week he is hopeful Bakalis will allow for a full accounting of the issues.

"I can't say for sure there will be a sentencing on Monday," Donahue said, adding he expects to meet with prosecutors and the judge earlier in the day.

Lemak's defense team also has filed an obligatory motion for a new trial, citing 17 alleged errors they believe should lead to the granting of a new trial. Prosecutors have responded by saying the proceedings were fair.

If Lemak is sentenced to life in prison Monday, officials said she most likely would be incarcerated at the Dwight Correctional Center. Lemak's attorneys have promised to file paperwork on her behalf seeking the maximum amount of medical treatment, arguing her mental stability is being bolstered by a collection of medications.

John Smith, chief of corrections for the DuPage County sheriff's office, called Lemak "the least problematic prisoner I have seen in 22 years here." Most days she spends her time reading and lying in her bunk at the County Jail, officials have said.

It was the same on March 4, the three-year anniversary of the slayings and the first to pass since Lemak's conviction. Said one of her jailers, "Marilyn was just Marilyn."

Copyright 2002 Chicago Tribune.