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Article updated: 5/21/2013 6:40 PM

Stolberg was trying to protect wife from herself, defense attorney tells jury

Ronald Stolberg

Ronald Stolberg

 
 Vernon Hills police officer Art Fink testifies Tuesday during the murder trial of Ronald Stolberg in the courtroom of Lake County Judge Mark Levitt. Stolberg is on trial for the 2011 first-degree murder of his wife, Rachel Stolberg.

Vernon Hills police officer Art Fink testifies Tuesday during the murder trial of Ronald Stolberg in the courtroom of Lake County Judge Mark Levitt. Stolberg is on trial for the 2011 first-degree murder of his wife, Rachel Stolberg.

 

Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune

 Ronald Stolberg, of Vernon Hills, and his defense attorney, Kevin Rosner, right, listen Tuesday during Stolberg’s murder trial in Lake County. Stolberg is charged with first-degree murder in the 2011 death his wife, Rachel Stolberg.

Ronald Stolberg, of Vernon Hills, and his defense attorney, Kevin Rosner, right, listen Tuesday during Stolberg's murder trial in Lake County. Stolberg is charged with first-degree murder in the 2011 death his wife, Rachel Stolberg.

 

Pool — Chicago Tribune/Stacey Wescott

 Ronald Stolberg, bottom left, during the start of his murder trial at the Lake County Courthouse. Stolberg is charged with killing his wife, Rachel Stolberg, 54, in their Vernon Hills home in 2011. Prosecutors say Ronald Stolberg held his wife facedown on the ground with such force she suffocated.

Ronald Stolberg, bottom left, during the start of his murder trial at the Lake County Courthouse. Stolberg is charged with killing his wife, Rachel Stolberg, 54, in their Vernon Hills home in 2011. Prosecutors say Ronald Stolberg held his wife facedown on the ground with such force she suffocated.

 

Pool-Chicago Tribune/Stacey Wescott

 Ronald Stolberg, of Vernon Hills, listens Tuesday during his murder trial in Lake County in Waukegan. Stolberg is charged with first-degree murder in the 2011 death of for his wife, Rachel Stolberg.

Ronald Stolberg, of Vernon Hills, listens Tuesday during his murder trial in Lake County in Waukegan. Stolberg is charged with first-degree murder in the 2011 death of for his wife, Rachel Stolberg.

 

Pool — Chicago Tribune/Stacey Wescott

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Ronald Stolberg intentionally asphyxiated his wife in their Vernon Hills home in 2011 because she was bothering him while he was trying to sleep, a Lake County prosecutor told a jury Tuesday.

However, defense attorney William Hedrick of Skokie explained during his opening statement Tuesday that Stolberg, 49, was trying to prevent his 54-year-old wife, Rachel, from hurting herself while she was having a mental breakdown on the hardwood floor of their home in the 300 block of Farmington Lane.

"Ronald Stolberg made a mistake," Hedrick said. "He wasn't trained in how to subdue someone and was trying to keep his wife from hurting herself."

Stolberg, who is held without bond, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and faces up to 60 years in prison if convicted, Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Scott Hoffert said.

In his opening statement, Hoffert said the struggle began after Rachel Stolberg, who was suffering from mental health issues, kept poking her husband awake in the middle of the night on June 7.

Ronald Stolberg pushed her facedown onto the hardwood floor near the front door and held her there until she stopped struggling. An autopsy later determined Rachel Stolberg's ability to breathe was cut off and she died of asphyxiation.

"While she struggled with him, he held her there until she stopped struggling and went limp," Hoffert said. "He got off her ... went back to bed, and went to sleep."

Police said Ronald Stolberg woke up the morning of June 8 and saw his wife still on the floor, but went to work at a Buffalo Grove electronics manufacturer rather than calling police, Hoffert said.

While at work, he told co-workers he had killed his wife, Hoffert added.

"Ultimately, (Stolberg) admitted he killed her," Hoffert said. "One thing that remained the same throughout was that he put her on the ground and held her there until she stopped struggling."

After returning home from work that evening, Stolberg called his mother before calling police, Hoffert said.

However, Hedrick said Stolberg came to terms with his wife's death while at work, and called his mother first because he is close with her.

"There was more going on here than someone murdering his wife," Hedrick told jurors. "Yes, Ronald tried to subdue his wife -- to restrain her. His attempts to restrain her failed immensely."

Stolberg was warned once by Lake County Circuit Judge Mark Levitt about acting out in the courtroom.

During Hedrick's opening statement, Levitt asked the jury to leave the room while attorneys discussed whether certain mental health testimony would be allowed in court. During that discussion, Stolberg started questioning the judge loudly about why the medical testimony wouldn't be allowed.

The outburst pushed Levitt to threaten to remove Stolberg from the courtroom.

Following the exchange, Stolberg asked Hedrick loudly "Why does he not allow medical testimony in this thing."

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