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Prosecutors grill former NU professor accused of murder

Wyndham Lathem pinned Trenton Cornell-Duranleau’s murder on a British man he just met, but admitted he never sought help after the fatal stabbing.

Wynham Lathem arrest photo
Wynham Lathem arrest photo
AP Photos

Cook County prosecutors Wednesday repeatedly questioned accused murderer Wyndham Lathem as to why — despite seemingly having frequent opportunities — he never sought help after he said he saw and heard his boyfriend being brutally stabbed inside his River North condo.

“You don’t go get help?” Assistant State’s Attorney Craig Engebretson asked Lathem, who said he ran into the bathroom when Trenton Cornell-Duranleau was first attacked in the early morning hours of July 27, 2017.

The former Northwestern professor said he didn’t.

Lathem, who initially took the stand in his defense Tuesday, pinned Cornell-Duranleau’s murder on Andrew Warren, a British man who had flown to Chicago days earlier before.

Warren started stabbing Cornell-Duranleau, 26, during an impromptu threesome, Lathem maintained.

All three men were on crystal meth and Lathem and Cornell-Duranleau were engaged in consensual knife-play before Warren killed him, Lathem has said.

Warren, who pleaded guilty to the murder in 2019 and testified against Lathem last week as part of his plea agreement with prosecutors, said it was Lathem who planned the murder and repeatedly stabbed Cornell-Duranleau while he slept.

Warren, 61, admitted he also stabbed Cornell-Duranleau twice in the abdomen and hit him over the head with a table lamp.

During cross examination Wednesday, Engebretson asked Lathem, 47, why he couldn’t run out of the condo and ask his neighbors for help since the bathroom he said he was hiding in was located by his unit’s front door.

Lathem said he wasn’t sure what was happening. When he came out of the bathroom and saw Cornell-Duranleau’s dead body, he still stayed in the condo.

He also showered and waited for Warren to shower before they left the condo, Lathem admitted.

“[You] didn’t tell the door man [that] this man from England just butchered my boyfriend did you?” Engebretson asked.

“No,” Lathem said.

Lathem said he also never asked for help from the half dozen people he encountered after he and Warren fled the city, leading to a national manhunt.

“There was a significant amount of people you could have asked for help along the way,” Engebretson said.

“Yes,” Lathem agreed.

Lathem has said he was in shock and concerned that he would be held responsible for Cornell-Duranleau’s murder because he had given Warren drugs and not explained to Warren the couple’s interest in kinky knife play.

While he could have asked for help, Lathem repeatedly lied to people as he and Warren to made their way west until they surrendered separately to authorities in California, Engebretson said.

The prosecutor also pointed out that Lathem went out of his way to destroy evidence, including resetting his iPad, and throwing away his and Warren’s cellphones and some of the drugs in his condo.

Engebretson also questioned Lathem about a series of exchanges he had about BDSM and “snuff” online a little more than a week before the murder.

Snuff films usually refer to amateur videos in which someone is murdered, but many of those purported recordings have been later debunked.

“In the BDSM community, it [snuff] is the name for consensual, safe role play where someone dies,” Lathem said.

“Safe dying?”Engebretson responded.

“It’s pretend,” Lathem said on the topic of “snuff,” adding that he didn’t recall his online conversation about it, but acknowledged he had discussed it before.

In 2017, police and prosecutors said Cornell-Duranleau’s murder was a sexual fantasy Warren and Lathem wanted to carry out as part of their suicide pact.

It wasn’t until Wednesday that prosecutors hinted at such a motive during Lathem’s trial which started last week.

Engebretson asked Lathem why he asked to move the conversation to an encrypted messaging app.

Lathem reiterated that they were discussing “consensual role play,” but said he would sometimes engage in those conversations to more private messaging apps because “these are embarrassing messages.”

Prosecutors are expected to call one more witness before Judge Charles Burns Thursday.

Closing arguments will most likely take place after.