Hoffman Estates triple murder defendant says it was self defense

Horseplay that turned into self-defense. That's how D'Andre Howard explained his role in the April 2009 stabbing deaths of three members of a Hoffman Estates family.

In a videotaped statement to police played during a pretrial hearing Wednesday in Rolling Meadows, Howard, 23, says the bloodbath began when his demonstration of knife tricks ended with him being stabbed by 18-year-old Laura Engelhardt, who lived at the house and was the sister of Howard's then-fiancee.

"Self-defense," claimed Howard on the videotape, where he seems to place the blame for the carnage on Laura, stating, "I didn't kill anybody. I didn't stab anybody."

Prosecutors reject that explanation and accuse Howard of murdering the 18-year-old Conant High School senior, along with her father Alan Engelhardt, 57, and Alan's mother-in-law Marlene Gacek, 73. All three died of multiple stab wounds. Alan's wife and Laura's mother, Shelly Engelhardt, was seriously injured but survived the attack. Three other family members were unhurt, including Howard's former fiancee Amanda Engelhardt and their child.

During his convoluted videotaped statement, Howard stood up and pantomimed for officers how he brandished a decorative sword that belonged to the Engelhardt family, claiming that he did so to display his "moves" to Laura.

"I wanted to show her what I could do," said Howard, who also claimed that he was demonstrating tricks with a knife. Howard, in the statement, said Laura stabbed him first when the tricks turned into a struggle over the knife. He said Alan was stabbed when he "jumped into it" after hearing his daughter in the struggle.

The teenager had fatal stab wounds to her abdomen, back and shoulder, and Alan died after being stabbed in the throat. Howard was treated for a wound to his arm.

The hearing Wednesday marked the first time Howard's account was heard in court.

Prosecutors played Howard's statement — made to police several hours after the slayings — during a hearing in which Howard's lawyers sought to suppress his statements to police.

Howard cut the hearing short about three-quarters of the way through the 2½-hour videotape when he abruptly exited the Rolling Meadows courtroom and went to the adjacent lockup, accompanied by sheriff's officers, and refused to return. Howard's defense attorney, Cook County Assistant Public Defender Jim Mullenix, told Cook County Judge Ellen Mandeltort there was an issue involving Howard taking medication. Mandeltort delayed the hearing until Aug. 17, when prosecutors will play the rest of Howard's statement.

Prosecutors say Howard and Amanda argued at the apartment they shared and that Howard followed Amanda to her parents' home, where he tied up Amanda, Laura and Shelly with yarn he found in the den and threatened them with a knife. Prosecutors say Howard untied Laura, who stabbed him, after which he stabbed Shelly and Gacek, who had entered the adjacent kitchen. Alan Engelhardt was stabbed when he came downstairs, prosecutors said.

The videotape began with Howard declining Hoffman Estates police officer Robert McGowan's offer of food, saying he would be leaving the police station shortly and that "as far as I'm concerned, I haven't been arrested."

The tape shows Howard signing a Miranda waiver and asking about Amanda, Shelly and his daughter, then engaging in small talk with the officers before offering his version of the events of April 17.

At one point, alone in the interview room, Howard can be heard talking to himself and calling for Amanda.

"I'm not under arrest so what's the problem?" he says. "I shouldn't have to endure this torture. I should be grieving for my family."

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The Engelhardt family in an undated photo. In the front are Amanda and Jeff. Standing behind are Alan, Laura and Shelly Engelhardt.