Man charged in Fourth of July parade shooting plans to represent himself at trial

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The man accused of killing seven people at a July Fourth parade in suburban Chicago last year fired his public defenders on Monday and said he plans to represent himself at trial, slated to start in February. Robert Crimo III is charged with 21 counts of first-degree murder, 48 counts of attempted murder and 48 counts of aggravated battery for the shooting in Highland Park, Illinois. Dozens, including children, were injured. Several times, Judge Victoria Rossetti asked if Crimo understood the possible penalties – including consecutive life sentences – if a jury found him guilty. She suggested he reconsider his choice to represent himself.

Crimo – a 23-year-old man with straight dark hair past his shoulders, wearing a red jail uniform – answered that he understood. The judge asked Crimo if he had any legal education, and he said he had once been an observer in court. In response to the judge’s questioning, Crimo said high school is the highest level of schooling he attained. Rossetti explained that he would be responsible for all aspects of his defence, including filing motions, subpoenaing witnesses, and making opening and closing statements. Crimo agreed.

“You will be representing yourself,” Rossetti finally said, before granting Crimo’s request to schedule his trial as quickly as possible, in February 2024 rather than February 2025 as his original defence team had discussed with prosecutors. Attorneys and Rossetti have repeatedly discussed the enormous amount of records and other material tied to the case, including about 10,000 pages of material the state’s attorney’s office has turned over to Crimo’s defence. Public defenders Greg Ticsay and Anton Trizna, who represented Crimo until Monday, declined to comment.

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Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart, whose office will be prosecuting the case, said in an emailed statement following Monday’s court hearing that “prosecutors on this case have been working tirelessly since July 4, 2022, and will be ready for trial on the set date. Our victim specialists have been in constant communication with the victims and their families throughout the case and will continue to do so.” They declined to comment on the defendant’s dismissal of legal representation. Prosecutors have said Crimo admitted to the shooting when police arrested him following an hours long search on July 4, 2022. The attack left a toddler without parents, families mourning the loss of beloved grandparents and a synagogue grieving the death of a congregant who for decades had also worked on the staff.

Since 2016, thousands of Americans have been wounded in mass shootings, and tens of thousands by gun violence, with that number continuing to grow, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Beyond the colossal medical bills, mass shooting survivors and family members often contend with mental and physical wounds that endure. Authorities last year said Crimo confessed to police that he unleashed a hail of bullets from a rooftop in Highland Park and then fled to the Madison, Wisconsin, area, where he contemplated shooting up another parade there.

The suspect turned back to Illinois, where he was later arrested, after deciding he was not prepared to pull off another attack in Wisconsin, Lake County Major Crime Task Force spokesperson Christopher Covelli said in the days after the shooting. Crimo III’s father, Robert Crimo Jr., pleaded guilty last month to seven misdemeanours – one for every person who was killed – in a case that centred on how his son obtained a gun license.

In 2019, at age 19, Crimo III was too young to seek his own gun license, but he could apply with the sponsorship of a parent or guardian. His father agreed, even though just months earlier a relative reported to police that Crimo III had a collection of knives and had threatened to “kill everyone.” After Illinois State Police approved the younger Crimo’s gun permit, the teenager legally purchased five firearms, including the Smith & Wesson semi-automatic rifle authorities say he used from his rooftop perch to discharge more than 80 rounds on a Fourth of July parade below.

Despite occurring in a state with some of the nation’s most restrictive gun laws, the case slipped though red flag laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous or disturbed people. Crimo Jr. is serving a 60-day sentence in Lake County Jail, where his son is being held without bond.