The most serious crime on the statute books of Chicago is murder, although international terrorism is also getting right up there in terms of seriousness. Quite often, the case hinges on three major components:
- The actual commission of the crime
- The motives behind the crime
- Any aggravating or mitigating features
Recently, a brutal murder in Chicago brought all these constituent elements to the fore. The case had it all – illicit sexual activity, self-harm, and fantasies that culminated in the loss of a life. The brutality of the crime and the depraved nature of the motivations were considered to be aggravating features. This is precisely why defense lawyers spend considerable effort trying to present the motives of a crime in the most benign way possible.
A case in point is the distinction between a crime of passion and a crime of greed. The latter may attract a severe sentence, but it will not face the same penalties under Chicago law as a murder for hire or murder for gain. Both the prosecutors and the defending legal team have to unpack the case to its minutest details so as to work out motivations.
An Example of Motive as an Aggravating Feature
The case under scrutiny in this article involves Wyndham Lathem, a Northwestern University professor. The defendant rented a car and left a bloody scene in which his then-boyfriend Trenton James Cornell-Duranleau had been stabbed 70 times. Later, the sheer brutality of the crime was considered an aggravating feature. The precedents in Chicago courts often give credence to the way in which the victim has been treated. If they have been violated or the body disposed of in a dehumanizing manner, that is considered to be an aggravating feature.
The personal characteristics of the defendant may be an aggravating or mitigating feature, depending on the circumstances. For example, a sophisticated criminal is always considered to be much more dangerous and culpable than one who has a limited mental age. In this case, the professor was well-respected and intelligent. The fact that he had donated some substantial amounts of money to LGBT charities in the victim’s name was not really a mitigating feature since a life had been lost. Defending attorneys always have to be selective about the kind of evidence they present as mitigation because it can bite back under the wrong interpretations. Chicago takes this crime very seriously, not least because of the increasing murder rates within the city. The punishments are often used as deterrents for would-be offenders.
The Gulf Between the Public and the Private
This case also raised issues of public and private actions. Normally, the courts would have no jurisdiction over private sexuality. However, in this case, a person had been brutally killed. The subsequent investigation revealed a web of plots and fantasies that were weaved in the relative anonymity of internet chat rooms. The defendant and his accomplices had engaged in fantasies of murder and suicide.
Although it could be argued that suicide is a crime against the personal body, the fact that it is inspired by someone else means that there is criminal culpability. Moreover, just because someone agrees to be killed for sexual gratification does not mean that the person that killed can use that as a defense in court. Indeed, the prosecutors in this case deemed it to be first-degree murder. For further information on defense strategies for those accused of murder, contact David Freidberg Attorney at Law at telephone number 312-560-7100.
(image courtesy of Tim Graf)