Richard Wanke, age 55, of Rockford, Illinois, was found guilty of murder in a Winnebago County courtroom earlier this month. He was involved in the first degree fatal shooting of the Illinois attorney Gregory H. Clark, age 60, who was appointed to represent Wanke on a burglary charge. The shooting occurred on February 6th, 2008. Wanke shot Clark at close range while the man was taking his garbage out and clearing snow from his driveway. The seven man, five woman jury came to a verdict just hours after breaking for deliberation on the 11th day of trial. Wanke is scheduled for sentencing on May 23rd.
Diane Chavez, who was once an alleged accomplice in the murder of Clark and at one time shared a home with Wanke, said she and Wanke’s supporters were “very disappointed” with the guilty verdict. “We believe that if the full facts of all the evidence that was collected had been heard by the jury, or presented at trial, the decision would have been different, undoubtedly,” Chavez said. “I think the state mischaracterized a lot of testimony, it went unchallenged in the record. A lot of witnesses could have been presented or questioned more thoroughly.”
Allegedly, Wanke wanted Clark off his case following his March 1st, 2006, conviction for stealing a laptop from a Rockford University professor, and had sought a new trial because of what he claimed to be ineffective assistance of counsel, but a judge denied his request. Clark had requested to withdraw from the case, and court records show a judge denied that motion, so Wanke “took matters into his own hands,” says Marilyn Hite Ross, chief of the criminal bureau for the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office. He needed to “take Mr. Clark out to get him off his case.”
Wanke’s current lawyers believe that there is no physical evidence tying Wanke to the shooting. No one reported seeing the Rockford man shoot Clark, and he had no gunshot residue on his person when police took him into custody the night of the killing. Wet clothing was also found inside a black plastic garbage bag in the basement of the home of one of Chavez’s co-workers in the early morning hours of Feb. 7, 2008, and that too was clear of any residue. However, prosecutors were able to get a conviction based on eyewitness accounts. Witnesses gave descriptions of the blue mini van with gold rims Wanke was driving, and included testimony from a girl who was seven years old at the time of the shooting.
As Deputy State’s Attorney James Brun said, speaking of Wanke, “This defendant had the opportunity and the ability to murder his attorney”. This, combined with the eyewitness accounts ultimately influenced the jury’s decision.