In some ways U.S. District Court Judge Joan H. Lefkow and her husband, Michael, an employment lawyer, were a study in contrasts. She was reserved; he was ebullient. She dressed conservatively; he was known for his dapper suits and gray fedora hat. But it was clear to friends their marriage was a 30-year love affair. "No one was climbing all over the other, but there was something deeper, more real," says attorney Robert Bailey. Adds Ken Cunniff, also an attorney: "They were what you hope people would look like after many years of marriage—holding hands, taking walks."
On Feb. 28 all that came to a brutal end when someone broke into the Lefkows' home and murdered Michael, 64, and the judge's 89-year-old mother, Donna Humphrey, shooting them point-blank in the head. Michael, recovering from surgery after rupturing his Achilles tendon playing tennis, had been on crutches; Humphrey used a walker. Lefkow, 61, came home to find them in a pool of blood and ran screaming from the house. Five days later she carried her husband's signature fedora at his funeral. In her service Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt, Episcopal chaplain of Harvard University, called both victims martyrs. "The men who killed them were petty thugs," she said, "no matter who sent them."
Who and why are questions consuming Chicago police and federal investigators. Says Shannon Metzger, spokeswoman for the U.S. Marshals Service: "We're doing everything we can to be slow and meticulous." The killers, apparently, were not. Evidence included two .22-caliber shell casings, a soda can, a footprint, a fingerprint and a bloodied mop. Police are reviewing many of the thousands of cases the judge and her husband handled.
Top of their list is one involving Matthew Hale, self-styled "supreme pontiff" of a white supremacist group he called World Church of the Creator. In December 2002, after an appellate court overturned Lefkow's earlier decision and ruled Hale's use of his church's name a trademark infringement, she fined him $1,000 for each day he kept using it. The next month Hale was arrested for soliciting her murder. Convicted, he is scheduled to be sentenced April 6 and has denied involvement in the killings. "There is simply no way that any supporter of mine would commit such a heinous crime," Hale, 33, held in Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Center, said in a statement released through his mother, Evelyn Hutcheson. "Yes, he has a poison mouth, yes, he's a racist," Hutcheson, 66, says. "That doesn't make him a killer."
Now in protective custody with the rest of her family, Lefkow voiced rage after the murders. "Nobody is going to intimidate me off my duty," she told the Chicago Sun-Times. At the same time she expressed horror that her work might have cost her a husband and the widowed mother who had raised her alone in rural Kansas. "If I had known this would cause this to happen," she said, "no, it isn't worth it."
Michael and Joan Lefkow met in the mid-'60s when Michael, then a Northwestern University law student, was doing research at Wheaton College in Illinois, where she was an undergraduate. She followed him to Northwestern and they wed in 1975. The Lefkows had four daughters (Michael had a daughter from an earlier relationship): Maria, 28, a staffer for The Princeton Review; Helena, 25, who helped in Michael's law office; Laura, 20, a college student; and Margaret, 16. Their father's practice was dedicated to minorities and the disadvantaged. Meanwhile, his wife rose through the judicial ranks until President Clinton named her a U.S. district judge in 2000. They worked across the street from each other, and Michael was known to stop by and bring his wife a rose.
The tragedy inflicted on them has appalled many in their city. "This isn't Baghdad, this is Chicago," says Dick Hess, a friend and lawyer. "They picked the gentle judge," adds Adrienne Drell, another friend and an assistant journalism professor at Northwestern University. "Not the irascible, hang'em one. The fair one."
By Richard Jerome. Barbara Sandler and Shia Kapos in Chicago
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