Richard Nielsen guilty of first-degree murder
WOODSTOCK – After deliberating for about two-and-a-half hours Wednesday, a jury convicted Richard G. Nielsen of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of 34-year-old Jeremy Lechner.
"We were confident we were going to prevail," Assistant State's Attorney Michael Combs said. "We felt the evidence was strong, and I think justice was done."
Nielsen, 53, is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 14. He faces between 20 and 60 years in prison.
The incident on Feb. 6, 2012, began with an argument after Nielsen was asked to move out of the home at 7607 Orchard Road in Wonder Lake. Nielsen rented a room from Lechner's girlfriend, Becky Meyers, who also lived there with her brother. Lechner stayed at the home on occasion.
Nielsen was told earlier that day he was no longer welcome at the home, Meyers testified. But the man believed he had a few more days at the home to gather his things, defense attorney Bill Bligh said during closing arguments.
"He had no idea that he was not allowed to return that night," Bligh said.
Bligh argued that Nielsen acted in self-defense and that Lechner had a history of aggression. He asked that jurors find Nielsen guilty of involuntary manslaughter. If Nielsen was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, he could have been sentenced to between 2 and 10 years in prison based on a prior conviction.
Lechner's ex-girlfriend and the mother of his child, Tamara Odarczenko, testified earlier about an domestic violence incident between her and Lechner.
Her testimony was tense at times. Odarczenko agreed when defense attorney Matthew Haiduk asked if she previously told Nielsen's legal team that she was "not going to saying anything in court that would help the defense."
Prosecutors said the Nielsen was not provoked but was the instigator. He returned to the Orchard Road home drunk, and after Tim Meyers shut the door in his face, he entered with a key through a side door. He began yelling and arguing with Lechner and Tim Meyers.
"He brought a knife to a fistfight – if you believe there was one," Combs said, adding that testimony showed there was only one punch thrown and that was by Lechner after he was stabbed.
Earlier Wednesday, a forensic pathologist testified that Lechner died from massive blood loss from a single stab wound to the chest. The knife broke through the ribs, lung and pericardial sac before piercing the heart.
"You really have to stick somebody with force," said Combs, who also is the chief of the State's Attorney's Office Criminal Division.
The doctor also said Lechner had a host of medications in his system when he died, including Xanex, phentenol, morphine and hydrocodone in either his blood or urine.
"[Nielsen] is in a brawl, a fight with [Lechner], who is filled with chemicals and 20 years younger than [Nielsen]," Bligh said.