D'Andre Howard admitted to "wildly slashing" four members of his fiancee Amanda Engelhardt's family and said he heard loud noises in his head "like a siren" while he did it.
Howard, wearing a blue plaid shirt and oversized glasses, spoke softly as he took the witness stand Monday in his own defense in the second week of his trial on charges he murdered three of the Engelhardts and attempted to kill another on April 17, 2009.
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"It was like a siren almost," Howard testified. "Like a loud noise. Something that irritates you, you know? I got the knife. I just wanted to make the noise stop."
Defense attorneys, who rested their case Monday, are seeking to show Howard was insane during the fatal stabbing of Amanda's 18-year-old sister Laura; her father, Alan, 57; and her grandmother, Marlene Gacek, 73, in their Hoffman Estates home. Amanda's mother Shelly was injured but survived.
Pausing frequently before answering questions, Howard frequently answered "I don't know" when asked about what happened during the early morning attack.
Prosecutors say the violence resulted from his anger over his belief that Amanda was cheating on him. They say he blamed Amanda for destroying their family, which included their infant daughter. He told her that because she ruined their family, he was going to torture and kill hers, prosecutors say. Amanda and their child were uninjured.
"It would make you feel better by making Amanda feel bad. ... Look what you made me do," said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Maria McCarthy while cross-examining Howard.
Howard's lawyers say he suffers from a mental illness and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, brought on by childhood physical and sexual abuse and neglect. For those reasons, they say he was unable to appreciate the criminality of his actions.
During more than two hours on the stand, Howard said he frequently heard voices and that he was tormented by demons. Several times, he mentioned being institutionalized and fearing being put in a mental hospital. He admitted arguing with Amanda before the murders, but he denied being angry with her.
Howard said he tied Laura, Amanda and Shelly with yarn because he wanted them to listen to him.
"I was hearing a lot of loud noises in my head," he said. "I was trying to explain myself, but it wasn't coming out right."
"I grabbed the knife because I wanted them to take me seriously," he said.
Howard also testified he believed Amanda installed a camera and listening device in their apartment's smoke detector and that she installed a camera in the engagement ring he had given her. He said he believed Shelly Engelhardt was going to accept a job in Boston and take his and Amanda's daughter with her.
He testified he told Shelly about the demons and she gave him a prayer, which he said made things worse. He also claimed that during the melee Shelly tried to exorcise him, so he stuffed a sock in her mouth.
Prosecutors say that after Howard untied Laura, she grabbed the knife and stabbed him in the arm. They insist that angered Howard, setting in motion the rampage.
Asked by McCarthy why he didn't put down the knife and leave the house, Howard said, "Those options weren't available to me."
Afterward, "when I looked around and had seen what had happened, I didn't know what to do," he said.
Outside the courtroom, Howard's parents said they hope the verdict will be fair.
"It's hard for us, and it's hard for them. Our hearts go out to the families. Both families are suffering," said his father, Earl Howard of Minnesota.
Also Monday, clinical psychologist Dr. Daniel Morjal, formerly with Cermak Health Services at the Cook County jail, testified he diagnosed Howard with schizo-affective disorder, a condition consisting of psychotic symptoms and depression, two days after the murders.
Morjal testified Howard, now 25, told him he began hearing voices, which Howard described as "good and bad," three months before the murders.
"The last time he heard them (the voices) was earlier that day," Morjal said.
On cross examination, Morjal acknowledged that jealousy is not a mental disorder and that it is common for jail inmates to be depressed.
He also testified that he observed no psychotic symptoms in Howard and that he did not appear to suffer from delusions.
Morjal said Howard was alert and cooperative, that his thoughts were organized and his responses to questions appropriate. In his notes, the psychologist wrote that Howard was "tearful regarding the circumstances of incarceration."