The trial of a former Chicago police officer on murder charges began Monday with audio of a calm but startling voicemail message that then-71-year-old Lorin Volberding left on his neighbor’s phone.
“It’s about 1:30. I think I just shot and killed Liz,” Volberding said on that voicemail message. “I need help.”
Lawyers waived opening statements at the start of Volberding’s bench trial in connection with the Feb. 3, 2017, shooting death of his wife, Elizabeth Volberding. Lorin Volberding, now 74 and reportedly suffering from dementia, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder. If convicted, he faces a minimum 45 years in prison because his wife’s slaying was committed with a gun.
On voicemail messages that Lorin Volberding left his neighbors, Cindy Leprich-Gort and her husband, David Gort, the former policeman spoke casually about an apparent dispute with his wife. Both Elizabeth and Lorin Volberding were retired Chicago Police Department officers.
“Drag me off to the hospital, drag me off to jail,” Volberding said on the message to Cindy Leprich-Gort. “Do what you need to do. ... We love you guys. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. OK. Bye.”
It was Elizabeth Volberding’s 68th birthday.
Alarmed by the message, Leprich-Gort said she called 911. In a separate message to David Gort, Lorin Volberding said his wife was “laying in a pool of blood in our kitchen.”
“Maybe you can help both of us,” Lorin Volberding said on the message. “I’m practically an invalid. Arrest me if you want. I just can’t stand it anymore.”
Lorin Volberding wiped away tears after hearing the voicemail audio played in court Monday. Since his arrest, a spotty memory, surgery and throat cancer have taken a toll on Lorin Volberding’s health, his attorney, Henry Sugden, has said.
In August, a McHenry County judge determined that Lorin Volberding was mentally fit to stand trial. Psychologist Robert Meyer testified at a fitness hearing last year that Lorin Volberding appeared to have partial memories and could participate in the trial.
Meyer also said he knew from a police report that Volberding allegedly told police he had argued with his wife and she threw utensils, including a knife, at him. Although Volberding allegedly told police he took a gun from an armoire and shot his wife, these details did not come out during his evaluation, when he claimed no recollection of what happened.
The day Elizabeth Volberding died wasn’t the first time Spring Grove police had been to the couple’s home in the 10800 block of Riviera Drive.
On Jan. 19, 2015, nearly two years before the shooting, Elizabeth Volberding called 911 from a neighbor’s house. She reported that her husband was barricaded in the basement of their home, Spring Grove Police Chief Thomas Sanders testified.
“When we got there, he was lying on the floor in the basement,” Sanders said. “He was highly intoxicated and agitated.”
Lorin Volberding sat still Monday as he watched police body camera footage of officers placing him in handcuffs and leading him out of his home.
The February 2017 video showed several alcohol bottles on the kitchen table, where police found the gun they said killed Elizabeth Volberding. In the background, Spring Grove officers lift Lorin Volberding off the floor, while his wife lies feet away in a pool of blood with a gunshot wound to her neck.
Prosecutors previously had offered Lorin Volberding a plea deal, which he denied in open court Monday. If he had agreed to plead guilty to an amended count of first-degree murder, prosecutors would have forgone a mandatory 25-year sentencing enhancement, and Lorin Volberding would have received the minimum 20-year sentence.
More testimony from pathologists and two crime lab experts, among others, is set to be heard at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the McHenry County Courthouse in Woodstock. A bench trial is heard by a judge alone without a jury.