Jacob Nodarse admitted he broke into a Darien home last year and gunned down 50-year-old Jeffrey Kramer during a 3 a.m. shooting spree that also killed Kramer’s wife and son.
Nodarse pleaded guilty but mentally ill Tuesday to one count of first-degree murder as part of a plea deal with DuPage County prosecutors that will keep him behind bars for at least 45 years.
The psychological problems that dogged the 25-year-old Nodarse at the time of the triple murder, however, are expected to become a crucial issue when he testifies as required by his plea deal against the other man charged in the March 2, 2010, killings.
Johnny Borizov, 29, still faces murder and solicitation of murder charges for allegedly planning the attack to end his bitter child custody battle with former girlfriend Angela Kramer, who hid in a closet to escape the bullets that killed her parents and younger brother.
While Nodarse fatally shot Jeffrey Kramer; his 48-year-old wife, Lori; and their 20-year-old son, Michael; prosecutors contend Borizov persuaded his friend to carry out the killings.
“Today, Jacob Nodarse took responsibility for his role in the murders of Jeffrey, Lori and Michael Kramer,” DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said in a statement. “With his truthful testimony in the case against Mr. Borizov, we hope to bring the truth to surface in this horrible case.”
But Nodarse’s mental problems – which included bipolar disorder and depression – likely will undercut whatever testimony he provides against his one-time friend, Borizov’s attorney said.
“He is obviously seriously, seriously mentally ill,” Borizov attorney Richard Kling said of Nodarse.
Even with Nodarse’s expected testimony, Kling said he is confident that when Borizov stands trial next year, he will be cleared of any role in the slayings.
“The facts will exonerate our client,” Kling said.
A masked Nodarse smashed a window of the Kramer home with a hammer, then rushed through the darkened house, firing a handgun at anyone he found, prosecutors said.
Jeffrey Kramer was shot three times, including once in the head after he already had dropped wounded to the ground, authorities have said.
After the shootings, Nodarse drove through the night to Florida – though he called Borizov on his cell phone shortly after the shootings, prosecutor Joseph Ruggiero said during Nodarse’s sentencing.
Nodarse, arrested a day later outside his parents’ home in South Florida, quickly implicated himself in the slayings and told police he had dumped the murder weapon in an Indiana trash bin – where investigators later located it.
But Nodarse also claimed Borizov had planned the killings with him, then “duped” him into carrying out the slayings, Ruggiero said.
Borizov was gambling with a friend at a Joliet casino at the time of the slayings – a step he purposely took to provide an alibi, authorities have said.
The plea deal acknowledged Nodarse had serious psychological problems, while also likely sparing him the mandatory life sentence he would have faced if convicted of all three murders, his attorney said.
“This is the appropriate plea,” defense attorney Randy Rueckert said.
Nodarse, who remains in custody, will be formally sentenced after Borizov’s trial.
Angela Kramer and other relatives wiped away tears in the crowded Wheaton courtroom as Nodarse admitted to the slaying, but declined comment as they left the courthouse.
Nodarse’s father declined to comment after the plea, but a family friend spoke highly of him.
“Jake is a wonderful kid, an amazing kid,” said Cathy Hejka, calling the charges against Nodarse “a nightmare you can’t wake up from.”