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Article updated: 5/10/2013 9:02 PM

DuPage judge describes learning she was on 'hit list'

By Josh Stockinger

DuPage County Judge Blanche Hill Fawell said she knew she "better sit down" when she received a letter about a hit list with her name on it.

The veteran jurist took a rare turn on the witness stand Friday at the trial of a former Wheaton man accused of soliciting her murder.

Fawell said then-prison inmate Harold Myers alerted her to the alleged plot in September 2011.

That's when her secretary handed her a letter and said, "You should read it," Fawell testified.

She said the letter talked about repeat DUI offender Gordon Vanderark, his "hatred" of her and his alleged plans to have her murdered.

Fawell, who had sentenced Vanderark to 24 years in prison, appeared to have no trouble remembering Vanderark.

He was "almost disrespectful, not very concerned with the court or the proceedings," she testified. "I remember at one point he came to court under the influence."

Fawell said she later reduced Vanderark's term because he expressed an interest in counseling for the first time.

Even then, she said, he seemed to maintain a "general lack of caring or interest."

"From what I remember, his answers were 'yep, nope,' those kinds of answers," she testified.

Fawell confirmed personal details, including the name of her husband and the location of their home, as listed on a "hit list" that prosecutors say Vanderark compiled.

Myers, 60, who was recently paroled from downstate Centralia Correctional Center after serving time for armed violence, testified earlier this week that Vanderark offered him $70,000 to kill Fawell and several other people, including Assistant State's Attorney Audrey Anderson, who prosecuted Vanderark's 10th DUI case.

In prison, Myers said, Vanderark called Fawell a "hanging judge" and would "rant and rave," turn red in the face and throw things when he talked about her.

"He'd get real red," he testified. "You'd think he was going to have a heart attack."

Defense attorney Neil Levine didn't cross-examine Fawell but has contended Vanderark's comments were "all talk" -- and typical of prison culture.

"Gordon Vanderark was a man with the anger coming out of his pores, or in other words, another inmate," he said in his opening statement Wednesday. "Every inmate blows off steam."

Fawell, a former prosecutor, has been an attorney since 1980 and a judge since 2001. She identified Vanderark, 55, in open court Friday without hesitation.

The jury trial resumes next week.

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