Westmont woman's killer: She deserved it
Jitka Vesel, her killer said in court Friday, deserved to die for "dumping" him.
In a bizarre court hearing that perplexed even his own attorney, 21-year-old Dmitry Smirnov asked a DuPage County judge for a life sentence as he entered the guilty plea for ambushing his 36-year-old ex-girlfriend in an Oak Brook parking lot in April.
Smirnov admitted he shot the Westmont woman 12 times at close range, including five shots to the head. When Judge Blanche Hill Fawell asked why he did it, Smirnov responded in a calm, quiet tone.
"Because you can't just expect to just dump someone like that and ignore them for two years, and you expect to, you know, get away with it, with no consequences and just, you know, waste someone's life like that," he said.
Smirnov, of Surrey, British Columbia, caught attorneys on his case off guard earlier this week as he sought to plead guilty to Vesel's murder -- less than four months after the slaying and without attempting to mount a defense.
In court Friday, Fawell questioned him for several minutes about his mental health and his understanding of the law before accepting the plea.
Smirnov, dressed in an orange jail outfit and standing with his hands clasped and shackled in front of him, appeared lucid as he told Fawell he has "no interest in life" but that he didn't believe depression was a factor in his decision.
"Do you understand that life means you're never getting out, that you will spend the rest of your life in prison," Fawell asked.
"Yes," Smirnov replied.
Prosecutors said Smirnov likely knew that Illinois abolished the death penalty about a month before he used a tracking device to locate and kill Vesel. In an email to a friend after the murder, Smirnov wrote that he'd just killed a woman and probably would be in the news.
"I think Illinois doesn't have the death penalty, so I'll spend the rest of my life in prison," he wrote, according to Assistant State's Attorney David Bayer, who read the email to the court.
In addition to pleading guilty, Smirnov voluntarily admitted he gunned down Vesel in a "cold, calculated and premeditated" manner, which made him eligible for life.
His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Steve Dalton, asked Fawell to order a mental evaluation for Smirnov before accepting his plea. But the judge said the law wouldn't allow it without Smirnov's consent or a "bona fide doubt" about his mental health.
Smirnov rebuffed the evaluation.
It's relatively common for murder defendants to plead guilty, but often for a lighter sentence.
Dalton told Fawell he believed Smirnov's guilty plea was "depression-driven," though the defendant appeared to have no severe emotional or cognitive problems.
"He agreed to the maximum sentence," Dalton said outside of court. "I have no reasonable explanation for it."
At one point during the hearing, Smirnov turned around and offered a blank expression to Vesel's friends and family members, who sobbed quietly as prosecutors recounted the chilling chain of events that led to her murder.
Bayer said Smirnov developed a relationship with Vesel after meeting her through the popular online video game World of Warcraft in 2008. The two later spent three weeks together in the Chicago area before Smirnov returned home to Canada.
Though he tried to maintain contact by phone and email, Bayer said, Vesel stopped interacting with Smirnov in 2009.
Smirnov, who emigrated from Russia to Canada as a teen, eventually returned to the U.S. and visited several western states after his parents kicked him out, Bayer said. On April 8, he came to the Chicago area with a .40-caliber handgun and ammunition he'd bought illegally in Seattle.
Bayer said Smirnov used a people-finder website to find an address for Vesel in Berwyn, but arrived only to find out she'd moved in with a former boyfriend in Westmont. This upset him more, prosecutors said.
About 9:40 p.m. on April 13, Smirnov ambushed Vesel as she left a volunteer function at the Czechoslovak Heritage Museum on 22nd Street. Prosecutors said he located her through a tracking device he put on the bottom of her vehicle.
Bayer said Smirnov opened fire as Vesel walked through the parking lot, striking her once in the side before she threw a cup of coffee at him. As Vesel fell to the ground, Bayer said, Smirnov continued firing, pumping five rounds into the back of her head.
Shortly after the slaying, Smirnov called Chicago police from his car in a McDonald's parking lot in Romeoville and confessed. Police arrested him almost immediately, and he later supplied them with two videotaped confessions.
Bayer said Smirnov later asked police if it was true that Illinois had abolished the death penalty.
"He told police he thought about shooting himself but could not do it," Bayer said.
Fawell agreed to allow members of Vesel's family members to testify about the impact of the murder at a later court date since there would be no sentencing hearing.
They declined to comment as they left court.