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Man found guilty of killing fiancee’s sister, father, grandmother

D'andre Howard

D'andre Howard

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Updated: July 5, 2014 6:28AM

D’Andre Howard took the stand in his own murder trial, saying he was tormented by “demons” and heard “voices” before fatally stabbing three members of his fiancee’s family at their Hoffman Estates home.

That testimony, the centerpiece of Howard’s plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, was just the “final act” in a desperate bid to avoid prison, prosecutors said later.

And while his testimony should earn Howard acting acclaim at next week’s “Tony Awards,” it was still “nonsense,”prosecutors countered.

On Tuesday, a seven-woman, five-man jury agreed. It took them just 90 minutes to find Howard guilty of a 2009 knife attack that killed the sister, father and grandmother of his fiancee, Amanda Engelhardt. He also was found guilty of first-degree attempted murder for injuries suffered by his fiancee’s mother.

Howard, who showed no emotion when the verdict was read, faces a minimum of 60 years in prison. Deana Binstock, one of his public defenders, vowed to file an appeal.

After filing out of the Rolling Meadows courtroom, members of the Engelhardt family gathered in a circle, where some cried.

When asked if he thought Howard, now 26, was insane, Jeff Engelhardt bluntly responded: “No.”

“I hope he can focus on changing himself. He’s got a long life ahead of him,” said Jeff Engelhardt, who added that he’s trying to forgive Howard, who would have been his brother-in-law.

During the trial, defense lawyers and prosecutors did not dispute the basic facts of the case.

Paramedics were called to a bloodbath at the Engelhardt home during the early morning hours of April 17, 2009. Bleach had been splashed about the crime scene. Howard, who placed the 911 call, was cut in several places, but was otherwise OK.

Meanwhile, Amanda’s younger sister, Laura Engelhardt, a Conant High School senior, was dead — so were her father, Alan Engelhardt, 57, and her grandmother, Marlene Gacek, 73. Her mother, Shelly Engelhardt, was badly injured, but survived.

Before the attack, Howard had grown so convinced that Amanda Engelhardt was cheating on him that he kicked her out of an apartment they shared with their 8-month-old daughter.

But while prosecutors argued “jealousy, anger and control” were motive for the slayings, defense attorney’s said Howard had a traumatic childhood and a history of mental health issues. They suggested he snapped and was legally insane during the attack.

Howard testified that in the weeks leading up to the crime he heard sirens and voices and believed angels and demons were “battling over his soul.”

Binstock argued Howard was suffering delusions and paranoia. She said he was in the middle of a “psychotic episode” when he marched to the Engelhardt household, tied up several members of the family, and disputed Amanda Engelhardt’s denials of infidelity.

Chaos ensued when Howard untied Laura Engelhardt, who then attacked him, Binstock said during closing arguments.

“He goes nuts. In his mind, it is kill or be killed,” Binstock said. “He’s killing his adoptive family. He is killing everything that is positive and constructive in his life.”

Assistant State’s Attorney Mike Gerber countered that Howard’s testimony proved he was “one of the great actors of our time.”

But he and co-prosecutor Maria McCarthy argued that just because Howard had some clear mental issues, that didn’t mean he was insane during the attack.

“This case is not about insanity. It’s about jealousy, anger and control,” McCarthy said. “It’s about trying to hurt Amanda in the worst way.”

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