Lake County state's attorney statement on charges in Old Mill Creek shooting
Here's a statement issued late Thursday afternoon by Lake County State's Attorney Michael G. Nerheim:
"In the last 24 hours, I have received a few citizen inquiries regarding the decision to charge five offenders with First Degree Murder involving the shooting death of one of their criminal accomplices following an incident in Old Mill Creek early Tuesday morning.
"In the interest of full public transparency, I believe it is important to be direct and forthright in explaining my decision-making process and evaluation of this crime.
"It is equally important to review the specific facts and determine where criminal responsibility lies in this case. The facts are these:
"On August 13, six defendants, most of whom have significant criminal histories, decided to come to Lake County with their sole intention to commit a series of residential and vehicle burglaries. In order to commit these crimes, they drove into the county in a stolen Lexus automobile, and armed themselves with a large 10-inch long hunting knife with a stainless-steel blade.
"At 1:15 a.m. in the morning, they drove into a dark and secluded area on West Edwards Road, awakening a 75-year-old resident who saw headlights in the area of his driveway. When several people started to walk up his driveway towards a car parked near his home, the elderly resident armed himself with a gun and went outside. The elderly resident had a lawful Illinois Firearms Owner Identification card and was the lawful registered owner of the gun.
"As the resident went outside of his own property, he saw multiple strangers approaching him. He ordered the strangers to get off his property and leave, but these strangers continued to advance on him. The resident saw that one of the strangers had something in his hand, and believing he was in danger of death or, at the very least, great bodily harm, he fired his gun several times to try and scare them away. One of the shots unfortunately struck one of the offenders, and the offenders all ran back to the stolen Lexus and drove away.
"A short time later, the six offenders spotted a police officer in Gurnee. They stopped, said their friend had been shot, and presented their friend to the officer. As the officer was evaluating the shooting victim's condition, four of the offenders drove off in the stolen Lexus. Later, in Chicago, they continued to flee from the Chicago Police, only stopping when they ran out of gas. They were taken into custody following a short foot chase, and some of the offenders later stated they ran from police because they "did not want to go back to jail."
"When Lake County authorities responded to the scene of the shooting, they located the offenders' hunting knife on the driveway.
"As I evaluated this case, several facts became apparent: These offenders collectively planned to arm themselves, then drive to Lake County in a stolen vehicle for the purpose to commit several forcible felonies, including vehicular burglary and residential burglary. Later, when these offenders selected the home of the elderly homeowner, they stopped their car and began to walk up the driveway. The offenders brought their 10-inch long hunting knife with them in order to protect themselves from anyone who might confront them at the house. When they were confronted -- as they clearly anticipated they might -- they collectively ignored the demand of the elderly resident to leave him alone. Instead, several of the offenders advanced toward the elderly man in a dark and secluded area. Shots were fired, an accomplice to the crime was shot, and he later died.
"Ultimately, it's clear these offenders were solely responsible for placing the now-deceased 14-year-old offender in danger. They are ultimately responsible for his death. Had they not made the decisions they did make early Tuesday morning, this 14-year-old would still be alive today.
"In determining what charges were appropriate, I reviewed the statutes that applied to the facts of the case.
"Illinois law has long held felons accountable for any foreseeable deaths that occur during the commission or attempted commission of a "forcible felony." This includes the death of innocent bystanders in addition to the deaths of co-felons. The rationale of the legislature surrounding this legislation is simple: When criminal defendants commit forcible felonies (especially when the felon(s) are armed), the possibility of death or great harm increases dramatically. This is specifically what the law is attempting to deter.
"My duty as Lake County State's Attorney requires me to make difficult decisions every day. I do not take any of these decisions lightly. I made the tough decision to charge the offenders with felony murder for their role in this incident, despite knowing there could be a backlash in doing so. Charging these offenders with felony murder as adults is based entirely on the law.
"As we do in every case my office prosecutes, I will continue to evaluate this case and work towards a resolution that is fair to all parties involved, while also fulfilling my obligation to keep our community safe. In doing so, I will consider the facts, circumstances, any mitigating factors, and the ages of the offenders.
"In the interim, however, I believe these charges are appropriate based on all the facts of the case, the degree of responsibility exhibited by each of these offenders, and the Illinois statutes currently available.
"My condolences go out to the family of the 14-year-old who lost his life in this tragedy.
"Due to the pending litigation regarding these cases, we will not be making any further comment regarding the facts of this case."