Chicago Tribune

Lemak gets life term for killing her 3 kids

By Jeff Coen and Art Barnum
Tribune staff reporters
Chicago Tribune
April 9, 2002

Saying he wanted Marilyn Lemak to ponder her "terrible acts" the rest of her days, a DuPage County judge Monday sentenced the Naperville woman to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1999 drugging and suffocation of her three children.

"It is appropriate that every day as you look at the walls, the floor, the ceiling, the bars, you will see the faces of these young children and hear these young voices asking you, `Why, Mom? We loved you, Mom. Why did you do this to us?'" Judge George Bakalis said, adding that he would order psychiatric services for Lemak, "so you will always maintain the capacity to understand the horror of your crime."

The harsh rebuke from the normally reserved Bakalis visibly rattled Lemak and drew tears from her ex-husband, David Lemak, who moments before had delivered a moving 4-minute statement about the loss of his children.

Taking a moment to describe the children, David Lemak introduced each with the phrase, "Let me tell you a little bit about ..." Nicholas, 7, then Emily, 6, then Thomas, 3.

His oldest child was a good student who loved to learn and dress up as a policeman or secret agent, he said. His daughter was a budding artist, he said, and his younger son, "the happiest child I've known."

"His greatest thrill, I think, was every day," he said.

Marilyn Lemak, 44, was found guilty of murder in December after a DuPage jury rejected her insanity claim at the end of a three-week trial. She is expected to be transferred from the DuPage County Jail to the Dwight Correctional Center by late Tuesday, authorities said.

At Monday's 30-minute hearing in the Wheaton courthouse, Bakalis rejected arguments from defense attorneys who cited 17 alleged trial errors and asked for a new trial.

Lemak's attorneys have argued that Illinois' insanity statute is unconstitutional, making it impossible for Lemak to receive a fair trial. They argued David Lemak's second wife, Janice, should not have been allowed to take the stand and tell the jury about harassing telephone calls, allegedly made by Marilyn Lemak, in the weeks leading up to the slayings.

Also outlined were concerns about a juror in the case. The Naperville man came to the attention of defense attorneys after being quoted in the Tribune after the trial that he "thought [Lemak] was guilty from the beginning," spurring the attorneys to question if he had preconceived ideas about the case.

Bakalis rejected the arguments and a request to have the juror questioned. Bakalis pointed out he was limited by Illinois statutes to the sentence he handed down Monday after prosecutors in January decided against seeking capital punishment.

Calling the life sentence appropriate, Bakalis said Lemak deserved to be punished for robbing society of the children's potential. Each could have become "a great scientist, a talented actor or musician, a skilled doctor or a gifted athlete," the judge said. "Maybe they would have become none of these things. Maybe they would have just been ordinary people that would have loved and been loved in return."

Pain, regret of father's loss

David Lemak struggled to express his loss to the court.

"I miss their smell after bath time and when they snuggled up with me on the couch," he said on the witness stand. "I miss stroking their hair when falling asleep and feeling the tightness of their hugs. But I most miss just being their dad."

The pain of his loss will never be dulled, he said.

"I regret that I'll not be able to teach them to drive or where a baby comes from," Lemak said, his voice cracking.

"I regret that I'll not see them off on their first dates or their weddings."

He told the court his family believes the most fitting punishment would be for Marilyn Lemak "to spend the rest of her life in prison. There she will have to live each day with the knowledge of the horror she is accountable for. There, she cannot harm any of us ever again."

On the advice of her attorneys, Lemak made no statement before she was sentenced. Lead defense lawyer John Donahue promised an appeal within 30 days.

During her trial, Lemak's lawyers described her as seriously depressed and said she lost her sanity as her marriage dissolved. She killed her children and attempted suicide believing they would be reunited in a better place, the defense said. Prosecutors arguing that Lemak killed her children out of anger after her husband began dating.

Families quiet after hearing

Marilyn Lemak's parents and sisters attended the hearing but declined to comment afterward. David Lemak's family, including his wife, also left the courthouse without commenting.

DuPage County State's Atty. Joseph Birkett praised the sentence. Lemak, who has been a nurse, wife and mother, will now become an inmate serving the sentence "she richly deserves," Birkett said.

Donahue, Birkett and Bakalis all offered condolences to David Lemak and his family.

Attorneys and other observers of the case have said it will be Lemak's haunting reflections on his loss throughout the ordeal that stays with them.

"I have had to experience seeing photographs of their dead faces and see their three coffins in a cold cemetery," Lemak said Monday. "I have had to bear the comprehension that their deaths were not without pain, and that I could not save them."

Copyright 2002 Chicago Tribune.