Stab wounds too hard to look at in Howard murder trial

Grim photographic evidence of the vicious attacks against three members of a Hoffman Estates family led some people to leave the courtroom and defendant D'Andre Howard to look away as the prosecution completed its case in his murder trial Friday.

Photos and testimony revealed 18-year-old Conant High School senior Laura Engelhardt suffered 12 knife wounds and her father, Alan, 57, had nine after a predawn rampage at their house on April 17, 2009.

Prosecutors say it started when Howard grew angry with his then-fiancee, Laura's sister Amanda Engelhardt, and wanted her to see her family members suffer. Laura's and Amanda's grandmother, Marlene Gacek, 73, also was killed.

Defense attorneys claim Howard - who they say suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of childhood sexual and physical abuse and neglect - was insane at the time of the murders. They will present their case beginning Monday, when they are likely to call hospital personnel from Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Hoffman Estates and Cermak Health Services, the hospital affiliated with Cook County jail, to testify about Howard's mental state in the hours after the murders.

Howard shielded his eyes and turned away from photos during Friday's testimony. Friends and family members of the Engelhardts in the audience listened but did not watch as photos were shown.

Jeff Engelhardt, who has attended the trial daily with his wife, looked away from the unsettling images. The brother of Laura and Amanda, he was away at college when his family was attacked.

Laura Engelhardt's childhood and high school friends, who also have attended daily, left the courtroom before testimony about the victims' wounds.

Jurors looked serious but showed no emotion as Dr. Kendall Crowns, the former Cook County assistant medical examiner who conducted the autopsies, testified that both Laura and Alan had wounds to their hands, apparently from trying to fend off the attack.

Shelly Engelhardt, Alan's wife and Laura's mother, was seriously injured in the attack but survived. She and Amanda testified Wednesday about the melee that took place in the home after Howard accused Amanda, the mother of his child, of infidelity.

Laura's 12 stab wounds included a major wound to her left abdomen that Crowns said could have caused her death. College-bound high school athlete Laura, who prosecutors say tried to grab the knife from Howard in a failed attempt to defend her family, also had a severe wound to her left chest, as well as wounds to her left shoulder and back.

All were inflicted by a single-edge knife, Crowns said.

Prosecutors identified the murder weapon as a kitchen knife that a forensic scientist from the Northwest Regional Crime Laboratory linked to Howard through a palm print taken from the knife handle.

Alan Engelhardt suffered nine stab wounds, Crowns said. They included a fatal wound to his left neck and jugular vein that Crowns said would have caused the stay-at-home dad and softball coach to "bleed to death in a matter of minutes."

Gacek, whose daughter Shelly described as an outgoing woman "who didn't take a lot of guff," had no defensive wounds, Crowns said. She was killed by a single stab wound to her chest, which punctured her lung and heart, Crowns said.

"This whole week has been emotionally draining and today was tough, too," Jeff Engelhardt said after Cook County Judge Ellen Mandletort sent jurors home for the day.

"Hearing it again, there's an overwhelming feeling of how much I wanted to have been there to help."

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D'Andre Howard
Alan and Shelly Engelhardt (back row), Laura Engelhardt (middle), Amanda Engelhardt and Jeff Engelhardt (first row).
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