Jacob Nodarse said he was afraid but believed he had no other options as he stood outside a Darien home on a snowy morning in March 2010 and prepared to murder a family.
"I was thinking about what was going to happen," he testified Thursday at the trial of Johnny Borizov. "Eventually, it came in my mind that I had to do this to save my family. I gathered up as much courage as I had and broke the window."
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Nodarse, 26, showed no outward emotion as he described firing his first shot at Michael Kramer, who had been asleep on a family-room couch. He said the 20-year-old ducked into a kitchen as his father, Jeffrey, emerged from a second-floor stairway.
Nodarse said he shot Jeffrey Kramer before taking aim at Jeffrey Kramer's wife, Lori, as she came down the stairs. Then he went to the kitchen and again opened fire on Michael Kramer, who Nodarse said tried to defend himself with a steak knife.
The gunman told jurors all the victims were hit in the torso, then "promptly" shot in the head "to make sure they were dead," per Borizov's instructions.
Nodarse checked other rooms of the house but said he didn't follow another Borizov order to look through closets for hidden survivors.
Had he done so, he likely would have found Borizov's ex-girlfriend, Angela Kramer, who he said he had specific instructions to kill.
"I failed to do that, thank God," Nodarse said.
Afterward, Nodarse ran to his car and set course for his parents' home in Florida.
He said he tried to call Borizov and several friends and family members during the long drive. At one point, he called 911 to ask if an undercover agent was tailing him.
"I was freaking out," he said. "I thought there were cars harassing me."
Nodarse, who pleaded guilty but mentally ill to murder in 2011, said the slayings capped months of persuasion by Borizov, who was locked in a heated child-custody fight with Angela Kramer and had allegedly instigated several domestic disputes with her family.
Nodarse said he bought drugs from Borizov and was led to believe their relationship had him entangled in an underground enterprise that also dealt in extortion and murder.
If he didn't kill the Kramers, Nodarse said, he was told he and his family would be brutally murdered by gang members, or slain by Michael Kramer and others who despised Borizov and, according to the story, believed Nodarse had information to help Borizov in the custody case.
The only solution, Borizov said, was to kill the Kramer family and earn full initiation into the criminal group, according to Nodarse.
"Johnny told me not to go to police. He said he had lots of connections to different cops and I would be taken care of promptly -- done away with," he testified.
The morning of the murders, Nodarse said he followed Borizov's instructions to wear oversized shoes stuffed with tissue paper, two pairs of gloves, three layers of clothing and a ski mask.
He ditched the items, along with his .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun, later that day in a trash bin outside a Terre Haute, Ind., pancake house.
U.S. marshals arrested Nodarse as he slept in a vehicle outside his parents' home the next day. After he was extradited back to DuPage County, Nodarse said he wound up in a holding cell next to Borizov, who by that point had also been taken into custody.
Jurors heard about an hour of low-quality audio recordings of the co-defendants talking. Nodarse said Borizov asked if he wore gloves and whether he abandoned the murder weapon.
"I told him I got rid of it," Nodarse said.
Nodarse, formerly of Countryside, was on the witness stand for roughly five hours Thursday and likely will be cross-examined by the defense on Friday.
Attorneys for Borizov, 31, of Willow Springs maintain Nodarse was "in a fog of mental illness," high on a "cocktail of drugs" and acting alone in the murders.