A recently paroled felon described Wednesday how he was offered $70,000 to kill a DuPage County judge, a prosecutor and several other people on behalf of a former Wheaton man.
Harold Myers, who was released from downstate Centralia Correctional Center earlier this year, said he initially thought fellow inmate Gordon Vanderark was a "sucker" and planned to "just take his money."
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"I thought it was just a lot of talk. It wasn't until later that I was convinced this wasn't a joke," Myers, 60, testified as Vanderark's murder-for-hire trial got under way.
Myers said Vanderark gave him $2,100 to show he was serious about the contract killings of Judge Blanche Hill Fawell, Prosecutor Audrey Anderson, Vanderark's wife and a man who held his power of attorney.
There also was discussion of killing a man Vanderark believed to be having an affair his wife while he served hard time for his 10th drunken driving conviction, according to testimony.
Myers said he was given personal details about the targeted victims on a "hit list," which he identified in court, and graphic instructions about how Vanderark wanted some of the victims tortured and slain.
"He wanted his wife to be humiliated," Myers said.
Myers eventually wrote a letter to Judge Fawell warning her of the plot and agreed to have a recording device taped to his chest during discussions with the 55-year-old defendant.
On one recording played in court, Vanderark tells Myers he "doesn't give a (expletive)" if children are present or killed during one of the murders. He also relays a message for the judge and prosecutor before their deaths: "This is from all the people you (expletive) over," according to the recording.
Fawell sentenced Vanderark to 24 years in July 2010 after he was prosecuted for his 10th DUI by Anderson. The sentence was later reduced to 16 years, court records show.
Assistant State's Attorney Joe Lindt said Vanderark was "on a path of revenge" and began planning the killings almost immediately upon his transfer to Centralia in January 2011.
He said the case is not about "blowing off steam or jailhouse bravado."
"He was bent on these victims dying," Lindt said in his opening statement.
But defense attorney Neil Levine contended the discussions were "all talk" -- and typical of prison culture.
The only reason authorities "sought to prosecute the tough talk of prisons," he said, was because it involved "one of their own" and a judge they appear before every week.
"When this case is over, the government can go back to Judge Fawell and say, 'We tried, your honor,'" Levine told jurors in his opening statement, insisting Vanderark is innocent.
Myers had two prior burglary convictions and was serving a 12-year sentence for armed violence when Vanderark moved into a cell across from his and the two became acquainted.
Myers said he was enlisted for the killings partly because he was due to be paroled soon. Payment was to be made upon "services rendered," according to a written promissory note, prosecutors said.
The two men appeared to stare each other down as Myers pointed out Vanderark to the jury, at which point Vanderark shook his head.
The trial resumes Thursday.