‘Compelling, interesting and tragic case’: Lemak continues to seek clemency

Part two

When Marilyn Lemak killed her three children 25 years ago, prosecutors painted her as an angry woman trying to hurt her estranged husband, while her defense argued she was legally insane.

The jury agreed with prosecutors, convicting her of murdering Nicholas, 7, Emily, 6, and Thomas, 3, by sedating then suffocating them on March 4, 1999. A judge sentenced her to natural life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But Lemak has asked Gov. J.B. Pritzker to let her out of prison, arguing that the prescription antidepressant she was taking at the time of the killings caused her to become psychotic and violent.

If the governor accepts Lemak’s clemency plea, he could commute her sentence or change it to life with the possibility of parole.

“I think this is a compelling, interesting and tragic case,” said Jed Stone, a Waukegan attorney who helped present her petition. “Ms. Lemak was and is a wonderful person despite these events.”

Marilyn Lemak prison mug shot. Feb. 26, 2024

In her petition, Lemak argued the Zoloft she was taking in 1999 did not come with a warning it could cause homicidal and suicidal ideation.

Stone said the manufacturer knew from drug trials about the potential for “horrible, psychotic side effects,” but did not disclose them to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“There were people in drug trials experiencing homicidal and suicidal ideation, with much lower doses than that prescribed to Marilyn by her doctor,” he said. In 2004, the FDA ordered the medication to come with a black-box warning.

Stone said if you knew Lemak before the murder, or now, “you would wonder how is it even possible that this could happen.”

He said the Zoloft was prescribed by her primary care doctor. He did not know if that was on the recommendation of a mental health professional.

In the petition, Stone argues that Zoloft “dampened her anxiety and depression regarding her marriage, but unleashed her inhibitions and replaced her depression with a crazy plan to poison her own children and end her own life.”

The Illinois Prisoner Review Board considered Lemak’s petition in 2022 and made a confidential recommendation to the governor. Pritzker is not required to act. He can approve, deny, amend or ignore the petition.

The governor’s office has not responded to a request about the petition’s status.

DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said the trial court “rightfully sentenced” Lemak.

“Illinois law mandates a life sentence in prison for the murder of more than one person and justice certainly demands the same for the cold, calculated and premeditated murder of three young children. I urge Gov. Pritzker to deny Mrs. Lemak’s plea for clemency in preservation of justice and the memory of Thomas, Emily and Nicholas,” Berlin said in a written statement.

Investigators who worked the case echoed Berlin’s sentiment and insist Lemak understood her actions. Her later statements to police were lucid and pointed out that in the days leading up to the murders, she took steps such as canceling the children’s regularly scheduled activities because she knew what she was planning.

“It wasn’t like March 4 she woke up and said, ‘I’m murdering every one of these kids,’” said Ray McGury, who was the Naperville sergeant in charge of the detectives handling the murders. “There were things previous on March 3, March 2.”

He acknowledges Lemak “absolutely” had some mental health issues, but the evidence showed a woman who planned the murders to get back at husband David Lemak.

“She murdered her three children because she hated her husband,” said Bob Guerrieri, the sergeant in charge of processing the crime scene.

A prosecutor met with investigators and members of the DuPage County Major Crimes Task Force to review the legal definition of insanity in the early stages of the investigation. Detectives then set out to gather evidence to show Lemak’s state of mind.

“This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment ‘I lost my mind’ sort of thing,” said Jim Glennon, who was commander of investigations for the DuPage County Major Crimes Task Force. “This was thought out.”

Asked if Lemak should be granted clemency, investigators said she is where she belongs.

“She should stay exactly where she’s at,” McGury said. “If there is a God, then a God will make that decision about forgiveness.”

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