Cook County jurors Thursday found a former Northwestern University professor guilty of brutally stabbing his boyfriend to death at his River North condo.
Wyndham Lathem, his hands folded, showed no reaction when the verdict was read in Judge Charles Burns’ courtroom following nine days of testimony at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.
Earlier Thursday, Lathem’s attorneys told jurors that the verdict would come down to which of the two men they found more credible: Lathem, or Andrew Warren, a British national who has pleaded guilty to his role in the murder of Trenton Cornell-Duranleau on July 27, 2017.
“Here we are four years later trying to figure out who did what,” defense attorney Barry Sheppard said, calling Warren a “depressed psychopath” and his client “an esteemed university professor.”
“It’s a who-done-it in a way, folks. It’s who do you believe?”
The jury apparently believed 61-year-old Warren, taking less then two hours to convict Lathem for first-degree murder.
Warren, testifying for the prosecution last week, said although he participated in the murder, the idea to kill Cornell-Duranleau was Lathem’s.
Lathem’s attorneys, however, said that it was Warren who made the decision to kill Cornell-Duranleau by stabbing him 79 times “in a jealous rage” as the three began to engage in group sex while high on crystal meth.
Lathem and Warren fled the city after the murder and were arrested in California days later. At the time, Chicago police and prosecutors said Cornell-Duranleau’s murder was part of a violent sexual fantasy and suicide pact Lathem and Warren concocted after meeting online.
But that motive was barely discussed during the trial, with prosecutors only briefly bringing up Lathem’s “escalating fetish fantasy” for “snuff.”
Snuff is generally referred to purported amateur videos in which someone is murdered, but many such recordings have been later debunked.
When Lathem took the stand in his own defense earlier this week, he said his discussions about “snuff” referred to “consensual, safe role play” in the realm of kinky BDSM sex where a person only pretends to die.
Lathem said he was engaging in consensual “knife-play” with Cornell-Duranleau when Warren got on the bed that morning and attacked the younger man. Frightened, Lathem said he ran to the bathroom in his condo and only came out after his boyfriend was dead.
While Lathem said he felt guilty about bringing Warren into the couple’s life, he admitted he never sought help after the murder and voluntarily went on the lam with Warren.
Warren said when he and Lathem connected on the internet, they were both depressed and agreed to kill each other. But when Warren flew to Chicago and that suicidal plan didn’t pan out, Lathem proposed to murder Cornell-Duranleau instead, Warren said.
Warren said he was supposed to record Lathem stabbing Cornell-Duranleau while he slept, but never did. After Lathem began stabbing Cornell-Duranleau, Warren said he joined in by bashing the 26-year-old man in the head with a side table lamp to stop him from screaming and stabbed him twice in the abdomen.
During their closing argument Thursday, prosecutors said it wasn’t only Warren’s testimony that was compelling; there was “mountain of evidence” against 47-year-old Lathem — particularly Lathem’s own words in an apparent video suicide note he sent his parents while he and Warren were on the run.
“Andrew Warren is not the star witness,” Assistant State’s Attorney Craig Engebretson said. “The star witness, if anyone is, is the defendant. His own words … his confession.”
Engebretson played the recording again for jurors Thursday, saying Lathem could clearly be heard saying, “I killed him” and “It wasn’t an accident, but it was a mistake.”
Prosecutors also pointed to Lathem resetting several of his electronic devices that would have shown his conversations with Warren, as well as his decision to throw away his cellphone. Lathem’s blood was also found mixed with Cornell-Duranleau’s on several items found in the condo, including a knife left by a kitchen sink and next to a bloody towel prosecutors said Lathem used after he cut his hand during the attack.