In an emotion-filled courtroom, Jacob Nodarse sat quietly off to the side by himself.
He occasionally looked over toward his family and supporters in the gallery and nervously bounced his leg. Nodarse, 25, also read through an eight-page agreement that, once approved by Judge Daniel Guerin, will send him to prison for most, if not all, of the rest of his life.
Some 19 months after Michael, Jeffrey and Lori Kramer were gunned down inside their Darien home, Nodarse pleaded guilty, but mentally ill, to a single murder charge.
In a deal with DuPage County prosecutors, Nodarse admitted to shooting Jeffrey Kramer to death on March 2, 2010 and has agreed to cooperate, including testifying, in the prosecution of codefendant Johnny Borizov.
Nodarse faces a minimum of 45 years in prison—20 for murder and 25 more for using a gun—but could receive a life sentence. Prosecutors asked Guerin to delay a sentencing hearing until after a conclusion is reached in Borizov's case, which is not yet scheduled for trial.
Borizov remains held without bond in DuPage County Jail on several murder counts. He returns to court next month. He is accused of orchestrating the shooting, which was designed to kill the mother of Borizov's son, Angela Kramer, according to prosecutors.
Instead, Nodarse thought he was "duped" by Borizov, Assistant State's Attorney Joe Ruggiero told Guerin. Nodarse believed Borizov and a third person would be carrying out killings at the same time he was at the Kramer home.
Nodarse used a hammer to break a window and enter the home around 3 a.m. March 2, 2010. A woman asleep on the couch awoke to the silhouette of someone in a ski mask who then opened fire with a gun Nodarse told police he had purchased, Ruggiero said.
Nodarse "admitted to committing the homicide" in interviews with police, Guerin also noted from the reports.
Prosecutors dropped nearly two dozen charges against Nodarse, leaving him to plead guilty to shooting and killing Jeffrey Kramer.
The description of his fatal wounds brought tears to many of the two dozen or so Kramer family members and friends occupying most of the seats in Guerin's courtroom. One woman kissed what appeared to be a picture after she wiped her eyes.
No one from the Kramer family, including Angela Kramer, offered comment after the hearing.
Across the aisle, Nodarse's family sat somberly with their own quiet tears. Nodarse stood before Guerin with few signs of outward emotion, even as the judge read excerpts of two psychologists' reports detailing his history of drug abuse and mental health issues, including delusional episodes and hearing voices.
Guerin methodically questioned Nodarse about his understanding of what was occurring and about how his attorney, Randy Rueckert, handled the case. Nodarse answered all questions with short responses, offering brief explanations only when asked about his current medications and his educational background.
Around the time of the killings, Nodarse was sleep-deprived and had been abusing alcohol and prescription drugs, including some for depression. Doctors who met with Nodarse concluded he knew what he did was wrong and showed remorse afterward, despite suffering from depression, paranoia and "several major" psychiatric disorders, Guerin said, citing the reports.
"I find there is a factual basis to find the defendant was mentally ill at the time of the offense," said Guerin, noting Nodarse was "alert, coherent and responsive" during the hearing.
State's Attorney Robert Berlin offered few comments afterward, simply noting where the process is at for Nodarse and Borizov.
Rueckert told reporters the deal was vetted by Nodarse and his family, and was the best possible scenario. If Nodarse, a former BMW mechanic who graduated from College of DuPage, had gone to trial and lost, he would automatically receive a life sentence based on state law relating to multiple murder convictions.
Under the plea, Nodarse could still receive less than a life sentence if he follows the terms of the agreement.
"When it gets down to it, this was the best plea," Rueckert said. "He feels horrible about what happened. The realization sets in more and more each day."
Cathy Hejka, a friend who described Nodarse as a "stepson," fought tears as she left the courthouse.
"Jake is a wonderful kid," she said.