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updated: 6/3/2014 8:30 PM

Engelhardt family feels 'absolute relief' about guilty verdict

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  • Video: Engelhardts React to Verdict

  • An emotional Jeff Engelhardt and his mother, Shelly, talk about the verdict after D'Andre Howard was found guilty of murdering three members of the Engelhardt family.

       An emotional Jeff Engelhardt and his mother, Shelly, talk about the verdict after D'Andre Howard was found guilty of murdering three members of the Engelhardt family.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer


Jeff Engelhardt paused for a minute when asked what he'd say to D'Andre Howard, his sister's former fiance convicted Tuesday of killing Jeff's other sister, father and grandmother.

"I would say, he took away three great people," said Engelhardt, standing before reporters and TV cameras outside the courtroom in Rolling Meadows. "I don't know how (Howard) feels. I don't know if he feels regret for us, or who he may feel sorry for, but he should feel sorry for his (5-year-old) daughter ... and now, I hope he can focus on changing himself. He's got a long life ahead of him, and it's not too late to change."

While thanking prosecutors, Engelhardt family members and friends expressed "absolute relief" over the guilty verdict, which came after only 1½ hours of jury deliberation but more than five years after the gruesome crime at the Engelhardt home in Hoffman Estates.

In April 2009, a fight with his fiancee, Amanda Engelhardt, turned violent, and Howard fatally stabbed Amanda's sister, Conant High School senior Laura Engelhardt, 18, her dad, Alan Engelhardt, 57, and her grandmother Marlene Gacek, 73.

Amanda's mother, Shelly Engelhardt, also was stabbed but survived.

After the verdict, Shelly Engelhardt referenced the heroic behavior of her family members who tried their best to protect each other during that horrific night.

"Now, my family can go forward with memories of our kind, loving heroes in our hearts," she said.

Howard showed no emotion when the guilty verdict was announced, but his parents, Earl and Constance Howard, both wept. Overcome with emotion, they declined to be interviewed. Before the verdict, Constance Howard expressed her sorrow over the Engelhardt family's loss.

"My heart deeply goes out to those people," she said.

As the jury deliberated Tuesday, Alan Engelhardt's sister, Donna Gasparas, feared there could be a hung jury and Howard could be set free.

"(The verdict) is relief more than closure," Gasparas said.

Dozens of Engelhardt family and friends, including some from St. Peter Lutheran Church in Schaumburg, attended the five-day trial. They hugged and wiped away tears after the verdict but still felt a sense of sadness. A few said they plan to visit Laura's, Al's and Marlene's graves in the next few days. One commented on Twitter, "Justice has finally been served. We miss you, Laura."

"Like the last five years have gone, we'll wake up tomorrow in the same reality," Jeff Engelhardt said. "And you've got to keep moving on from that."

The large, supportive group helped carry the family through these difficult years and the emotional trial.

"They're such a loving family," said family friend Denise Higgins. "There's no winner in this situation."

Jeff Engelhardt said he's in the process of trying to forgive Howard. He said it's hard not to be angry, but he still sees hope for his family's killer.

"He's 26. There's time for him to change. There's time for me to change," he said.

• Legal Affairs Writer Barbara Vitello contributed to this report.

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