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Illinois man rejects deal to plead guilty to 7 murder charges in shooting at 2022 July Fourth parade

person sitting in courtroom looking at attorney
Robert E. Crimo III, left, talks to Lake County's assistant public defender Anton Trizna as he appears before Judge Victoria A. Rossetti at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, Ill., Wednesday, June 26, 2024. Crimo III is charged with killing seven people and wounding dozens more in a shooting at an Independence Day parade in the suburban Chicago town of Highland Park, Ill.

WAUKEGAN — The man accused of killing seven people and injuring dozens more at a 2022 Independence Day parade in a Chicago suburb rejected a deal requiring him to plead guilty to seven charges of murder Wednesday in a stunning courtroom scene just days before the second anniversary of the attack.

Appearing in a Lake County courtroom, Robert E. Crimo III, 23, refused to accept the agreement that prosecutors said would mean a life sentence for him in the Highland Park shooting.

Prosecutor Ben Dillon told Judge Victoria Rossetti that attorneys had discussed an agreement requiring Crimo to plead guilty to seven counts of first-degree murder and 48 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. He would be imprisoned for life and ineligible for release on the murder counts.

As family members of people killed and others wounded in the mass shooting watched, Rossetti asked Crimo if the agreement described was what he discussed with his attorneys. Crimo remained silent before looking back at his parents seated in a front-row bench.

Defense attorneys Greg Ticsay and Anton Trizna briefly spoke with Crimo at the defense table before Rossetti suggested they go back into a private room. When they returned, the judge asked Crimo whether he wanted to go forward.
“No,” he responded.

Many in the full courtroom had hoped to give statements in court Wednesday and were left baffled by the abrupt change. One man held up a middle finger to Crimo’s parents as they exited the courtroom ahead of a private meeting that prosecutors held with victims.

After the hearing, Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said his team met with the victims in support, calling it “necessary” after the hearing. He said prosecutors will be ready for trial set for February and declined to answer questions since the case remains open.

Crimo’s public defenders left court without speaking with reporters. A message left at their office wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday.

Prosecutors initially charged Crimo with 21 counts of first-degree murder — three counts for each person killed — as well as 48 counts of attempted murder and 48 counts of aggravated battery.

Family members of people killed said they hoped Wednesday would bring some closure ahead of the Fourth of July holiday. Instead, they plan to refocus on a trial and accused Crimo of seeking another opportunity to hurt them and all victims.

Some felt Crimo was looking at them, not his parents, as the silent courtroom awaited his answer about the proposed agreement.

“It’s hard, it’s hard, just to come in here and see the person that took my dad, it’s not something that you want to do,” said Karina Mendez, whose father Eduardo Uvaldo was killed.

Leah Sundheim’s mother, Jacquelyn, also was among the victims killed.

“All I wanted was to be able to fully grieve my mom without the looming trial, knowing that he was going to spend the rest of his life in jail,” Sundheim said. “Instead, we were yet again shown his complete and blatant disregard for humans, or anyone, for all of us in that courtroom.”

She said now they face months of uncertainty.

Dozens of people were wounded in the 2022 shooting. The wounded ranged in age from their 80s down to an 8-year-old boy who was left partially paralyzed.

Witnesses described initial confusion as the shots began, followed by panic as families fled the parade route through downtown Highland Park, leaving behind chairs, bicycles and strollers in the rush to find safety inside nearby businesses or homes.

The criminal case has proceeded slowly for months. At one point, Crimo insisted he wanted to fire his public defenders and represent himself. He abruptly reversed that decision weeks later.

Wednesday’s hearing was announced last week, though he was not scheduled to return to court until August. Crimo sat in a wheelchair during Wednesday’s hearing, a change from prior appearances where he walked into and out of the room with deputies.

Christopher Covelli, deputy chief with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, said Crimo “informed our correctional staff this morning that he was nervous and unsure if he’d be able to walk in and out of the courtroom. For that reason, he was placed in a wheelchair for his movements.”

Authorities have said the accused gunman confessed to police in the days after he opened fire from a rooftop in Highland Park, an affluent suburb that is home to about 30,000 people near the Lake Michigan shore. They said he initially fled to the Madison, Wisconsin, area and contemplated a second shooting at a parade there but returned to Chicago’s northern suburbs.

Those killed in the attack were Katherine Goldstein, 64; Jacquelyn Sundheim, 63; Stephen Straus, 88; Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, 78; and Eduardo Uvaldo, 69, and married couple Kevin McCarthy, 37, and Irina McCarthy, 35.
The McCarthys’ 2-year-old son was found alone at the scene and eventually reunited with extended family members.

All of them were from the Highland Park area except for Toledo-Zaragoza, who was visiting family in the city from Morelos, Mexico.

The violence focused attention on Highland Park’s 2013 ban on semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity magazines. Illinois officials have long contended that legal and illegal weapons are easily purchased in surrounding states, hampering even the toughest local laws’ effectiveness.

Authorities said that Crimo, a resident of nearby Highwood, legally purchased the rifle. But he first applied for a state gun license in 2019 when he was 19, too young to apply independently in Illinois.

His father sponsored the application, though police reports show that months earlier a relative reported to police that Crimo III had threatened to “kill everyone” and had made several threats to kill himself.

Prosecutors initially charged the father, Robert Crimo Jr., with seven felony counts of reckless conduct and he pleaded guilty in November to seven misdemeanor counts of reckless conduct. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail and released early for good behavior.

Crimo’s father declined to speak with reporters following Wednesday’s hearing.

Picture of Associated Press

Associated Press

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