A 25-year-old man admitted to slaying three members of a Darien family last year as part of a deal with prosecutors that requires him to testify against a friend he claims orchestrated the crime.
Jacob Nodarse, formerly of Countryside, pleaded guilty but mentally ill on Tuesday to one count of first-degree murder in connection with the fatal March 2, 2010, shootings of Jeffrey and Lori Kramer and their 20-year-old son, Mike.
Prosecutors agreed to drop other charges, including conspiracy and home invasion, in exchange for Nodarse's cooperation in the case against co-defendant Johnny Borizov, 29, of Willow Springs.
Friends of Nodarse's family said outside the courthouse Tuesday they where shocked when they learned about Nodarse's involvement in the crime. They described Nodarse as "an amazing boy" who formerly worked as an auto mechanic at a BMW dealership.
"I've known him for years, and he never got into any trouble," Cindy Bennecke said. "He was the most polite kid -- soft-spoken, well-mannered."
Nodarse will be sentenced sometime after Borizov's trial, which isn't expected to start for another six months to a year, prosecutors said. Nodarse is facing a potential prison sentence of 45 years to life.
State's Attorney Robert Berlin said in a statement that Nodarse "took responsibility for his role in the murders."
"With his truthful testimony in the case against Mr. Borizov," Berlin added, "we hope to bring the truth to surface in this horrible case."
Defense attorney Randy Rueckert said the plea deal was "the best option available" for Nodarse, who has some history of mental instability.
"Although a life sentence is a possibility," Rueckert said after Tuesday's hearing, "there's also a possibility of something less than life."
Prosectors say Nodarse was tricked into carrying out the slayings by Borizov, who was engaged in a bitter child-custody battle with Jeffrey and Lori Kramer's daughter, Angela. They said Borizov told Nodarse he would kill other people while Nodarse was in Darien.
Authorities said Borizov solicited and encouraged Nodarse to kill members of the Kramer family, specifically Angela Kramer.
Nodarse opened fire about 3 a.m. after shattering a window to get inside the home. Jeffrey, Lori and Mike Kramer were shot to death after being roused from sleep. Angela Kramer survived by hiding in a closet and dialing 911.
After the shooting, Nodarse fled to his parents' home in Florida, where authorities apprehended him the next day sleeping in a van parked outside the home.
On Tuesday, Angela Kramer and other family members wiped away tears as Nodarse entered his guilty plea in front of Judge Daniel Guerin. They declined to comment after Tuesday's hearing.
Rueckert said Nodarse is "a very introverted kid" who was good at his job but didn't have a lot of friends. "He was despondent a lot," he said.
As for Borizov, he has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy, solicitation of murder and home invasion. His attorney has said there's no evidence other than unreliable statements by Nodarse against Borizov, who was videotaped while gambling at a Joliet riverboat at the time of the killings.
Borizov, who remains in the county jail in lieu of bail, is scheduled to return to court Oct. 19.