When D'Andre Howard stood before Cook County Judge Ellen Mandletort last week, he did so without Cook County Assistant Public Defender Jim Mullenix by his side.
It was the first time Mullenix has not stood with Howard since the 23-year-old appeared in bond court to face charges of first-degree murder in the April 2009 slayings of three members of the Engelhardt family in their Hoffman Estates home.
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Mullenix, a member of the Cook County Public Defender's elite homicide task force, retired in December after 30 years as an assistant public defender and a quarter century representing clients charged with the most serious crimes and facing the most severe punishments, including the death penalty until Illinois legislators abolished it last year.
When he stands trial on charges he murdered 18-year-old Conant High School senior Laura Engelhardt, her father Alan Engelhardt, 57, and her maternal grandmother, Marlene Gacek, Howard will do without the attorney he has come to trust.
Mullenix says he wanted to remain Howard's lawyer and that he asked Mandletort to appoint him as Howard's counsel, but she declined and the public defender's office assigned Cook County Assistant Public Defender Deanna Binstock to the case. Mullenix warned Howard that could happen.
"He's not happy about it," Mullenix said of his former client.
Mullenix's wife, Assistant Public Defender Julie Koehler, assisted him in Howard's case but was never formally assigned.
Mandletort declined to comment on the pending case.
"Putting a new lawyer on a case like this, that is this old, is like starting over," said Cook County Assistant Public Defender Scott Slonim, chief of the public defender's Rolling Meadows office.
As a result, a trial could be a year or more away, said Slonim, whose focus remains on Howard.
"Our biggest concern is our client," Slonim said. "We have to do what is best for him."