Plainfield Township man pleads not guilty to murder of 6-year-old boy, hate crime

A Plainfield Township man accused of fatally stabbing a 6-year-old boy while fueled by anger over the Israel-Hamas conflict pleaded not guilty Monday to murder and hate crime charges.

Joseph Czuba, 71, is charged with killing Wadea Al-Fayoume and attempting to kill his mother, Hanaan Shaheen, on Oct. 14, at the Plainfield Township home he rented to the victims. Prosecutors say Czuba stabbed Wadea 26 times with a military-style knife.

A Will County grand jury indicted Czuba Thursday on three counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated battery and two counts of hate crime.

Prosecutors last week said they intend to ask a jury to find that the murder was committed with "exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty." If jurors agree, it would make Czuba eligible for natural life in prison if found guilty.

Federal authorities also have opened an investigation into the killing, which has drawn national attention.

Czuba, dressed in a red Will County jail uniform indicating he was in the medical unit, stood quietly during Monday's proceedings, only nodding when his attorneys spoke to him and answering "yes" when Will County Judge David Carlson asked if he understood his rights pertaining to his pretrial detention. Czuba has been ordered held in custody while awaiting trial.

Wadea's father and grandfather also were in court for Monday's arraignment.

After court, Wadea's paternal grandfather decried the violence, nothing that adding other Muslims have been attacked in recent weeks because of their faith.

"These days there is no freedom of speech or even religion," he said, adding that whether people speak out or not they are targeted.

He said he hoped something would be done, "especially by our president," about the growing concerns of targeted attacks against Muslims in the United States.

Prosecutors said Monday that in the days before the attack, Czuba grew concerned about the Israel-Hamas conflict and asked Shaheen to move out of the home, where Czuba and his wife also lived. The day of the attack, Czuba argued with Shaheen about the conflict, authorities say.

Shaheen suggested the two pray for peace before Czuba began attacking her, prosecutors have said. Shaheen was able to escape to a bathroom, where she used her cellphone to call police. Authorities said she could hear Czuba attacking her son as she called 911.

Following Monday's court proceeding, Czuba's defense attorney, George Lenard, reiterated that is client is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

"We are in the process of conducting our own investigation," said Lenard, who was appointed to represent Czuba through the Will County Public Defender's Office. "We are going to do the best we can to protect all his constitutional rights and make sure he receives a fair trial by an impartial jury."

Carlson also assigned the case Monday to Judge Amy Bertani Tomczak for further proceedings. The next scheduled court date is Jan. 8.

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Joseph Czuba stands with his lawyers during his arraignment Monday in a Will County courtroom, Czuba, 71, of Plainfield Township, faces murder, attempted murder and hate crime charges in the Oct. 14 killing of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and stabbing of the boy's mother, Hanaan Shaheen. Gary Middendorf/Shaw Local News Network
Wadea Al-Fayoume Courtesy of CAIR-Chicago
Joseph Czuba pleaded not guilty during a court appearance Monday on charges stemming from the Oct. 14 killing of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and stabbing of the boy's mother, Hanaan Shaheen, in Plainfield Township. Gary Middendorf/Shaw Local News Network
Joseph Czuba, center, stands with defense lawyers George Lenard, left, and Kylie Blatti during an appearance Monday in a Will County courtroom. Gary Middendorf/Shaw Local News Network
Joseph Czuba
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