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Article updated: 6/21/2013 1:54 PM

Court upholds conviction in Hanover Park dollar-store murder

Jerry Lockhart

Jerry Lockhart

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An appellate court has upheld a Hanover Park man's murder conviction in the November 2008 stabbing death of a dollar-store clerk, prosecutors said Thursday.

Jerry Lockhart, 44, had argued his conviction should be overturned because the trial court admitted as evidence a knife that was not the murder weapon and allowed jurors to hear a secretly obtained jailhouse recording of him talking to a co-defendant.

In its decision, the 2nd District Appellate Court in Elgin found that "even if the knife found in the defendant's jacket was (an) error, such error was harmless in light of the overwhelming evidence of the defendant's guilt." Appellate justices also found the trial court "did not abuse its discretion" by admitting the audio recording because of its evidentiary value and because the co-defendants knew they were being monitored.

DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin called Lockhart's appeal "an attempt to escape responsibility" for the murder of 56-year-old Vatsala Thakkar.

"With the appellate court's decision, Vatsala's family and friends will be able to move on with their lives knowing that Mr. Lockhart will pay a significant price," he said.

Lockhart, who is serving a 30-year sentence, was found guilty in 2011 of enlisting two teenagers from his neighborhood to rob the Dollar Plus store on Arlington East Drive where Thakkar, a mother of three, worked as a clerk.

Prosecutors said Thakkar was stabbed several times in the back during the course of the robbery, which netted about $135.

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