The good deeds Jacob Nodarse performed after he murdered three people could not diminish the awful crime, a DuPage County judge said Monday before sentencing the former auto mechanic to 75 years in prison.
"For the terrifying minutes you spent inside the Kramer house, you will now spend hopeless years inside a prison cell," Judge Daniel Guerin told Nodarse, 26.
Nodarse broke into the Darien home of Jeffrey and Lori Kramer on March 2, 2010 and shot the couple to death, along with their son Michael, prosecutors said.
Earlier this summer, Johnny Borizov, of Willow Springs, was sentenced to life in prison for plotting the murders, which authorities said were motivated by Borizov's hatred for the Kramer family. Borizov and Angela Kramer, Jeffrey and Lori's daughter, have a child, but their relationship ended several months before the slayings.
Guerin said he thought Nodarse would never have committed the murders without Borizov's influence, but he added, "One can only mitigate a triple murder so far."
Although prosecutors described him as the "perfect patsy," Nodarse took full blame for the murders of the Kramers and their son, who had been one of his best friends.
"I was not strong enough and no one can be blamed for my shameful weakness but me," Nodarse said during a 15-minute address to the judge in a crowded courtroom.
Angela Kramer and her brother Anthony were among those present; both were at the home the night of the shootings but escaped unharmed.
During Borizov's trial, Nodarse provided hours of testimony against his former friend, detailing how Borizov groomed him for the crime over several months in late 2009 and early 2010. Nodarse said he and Michael Kramer were friends but had a falling out over Nodarse's friendship with Borizov.
Nodarse said Borizov became his only friend, eventually convincing him that Michael and Angela Kramer were plotting to have Nodarse killed as an outgrowth of a child custody battle between Borizov and Angela Kramer.
Nodarse, who had a history of mental illness and substance abuse, said he came to believe that Borizov operated a crime crew.
Over several months, Borizov introduced Nodarse to the "crew" members at various bars in the west and southwest suburbs. All were just acquaintances of Borizov and weren't involved in organized crime, but Nodarse said Borizov's accounts were believable.
Nodarse testified that Borizov told him that the Kramers, as part of the custody fight, had brought law enforcement pressure on the "crew," which was demanding that Borizov and Nodarse kill the Kramers, or face retaliation from it.
Borizov helped him plot the murders and instructed him to wear three sets of clothing and gloves when carrying out the shootings, Nodarse said.
After committing the crimes, Nodarse fled to Florida, where his parents and a sister live, but was arrested the next day.
Nodarse, who became the state's main witness, agreed to plead guilty but mentally ill to one count of first-degree murder. The agreement held out the possibility that Nodarse could spend his last years free, though he faced a minimum 45-year sentence.
In an unusual twist at the sentencing hearing, Nodarse attorney Randy Rueckert called on Assistant State's Attorney Joe Ruggiero, lead prosecutor in the Borizov case.
Ruggiero testified that Nodarse was cooperative and honest as prosecutors built their case against Borizov.
Rueckert asked the judge to sentence his client to the minimum. Prosecutors wanted at least 52 years, a sentence that would have kept Nodarse in prison to age 75.
Guerin, who presided over Borizov's trial, said he understood the role Nodarse played.
"But I also understand it was you firing that gun in that house," he said.
Judith Pokorny, the mother of Jeffrey Kramer, said the family was satisfied with the sentence and said she did not want Nodarse to ever leave prison.
"I didn't want him walking among us," she said.
Angela Kramer gave a brief victim impact statement, in which she said "life is a gift and this defendant took life."
Kramer asked the judge to impose the "strongest punishment possible."