It was a bittersweet victory for the parents of Denise Leuthold as their daughter's killer was found guilty of first degree murder.
Diane and Doug Newton said they were relieved to see the jury come back with a conviction for Nathan Leuthold on Monday evening after a little more than an hour and a half of deliberations. Leuthold was accused of shooting to death his wife, the Newtons' daughter, at their North Peoria home on Valentine's Day 2013. Neither expressed anger at their son-in-law, but were glad to see that justice had been served after six days of testimony that were preceded by 15 months of uncertainty.
"The peace in our heart, we've had that since the beginning. [Denise is] where God wants her to be. But of course, we're just glad things have come to a conclusion," said Doug Newton.
Diane Newton said it wasn't only justice for her daughter that was on her mind as she worried about whether or not Leuthold would be found guilty. Her mind was pulled towards the welfare of her grandkids, whom she and her husband have been taking care of since Leuthold was first taken into custody.
"There was a time we felt scared. You know, what would happen to us or the kids if he were released?" she said.
The Newtons say the children have been out of state since the trial began so they didn't have to be exposed to the intense media coverage of the proceedings.
State's Attorney Jerry Brady and Assistant State's Attorney Jodi Hoos were also relieved to see the guilty verdict handed down, especially because they were never able to put the gun in Leuthold's hand, so to speak. The evidence the two prosecutors presented merely showed that Leuthold very well could have killed his wife, but never firmly put him at the scene of the crime. But apparently, it was enough.
"The evidence was direct, in spite of it being entirely circumstantial. The jury probably saw through to what the defendant had done," Brady said.
What seemed to be among the most damning piece of evidence was a series of Internet searches made on Leuthold's computer. Search items included questions on how to poison someone with insulin, how to electrocute a person, and how to muffle the sound of a gunshot. One search even specifically mentioned a Glock .40, the gun police believe was used to kill Denise Leuthold, and a weapon that Nathan Leuthold owned. The search history didn't just look bad on its own; it corroborated testimony from David Smith, a jail inmate who says Leuthold told him all about the murder.
The prosecution also pointed to an apparent love affair between Leuthold and a Lithuanian student he sponsored as his motive for the murder, arguing that Leuthold wanted to get his wife out of the way so he could be with his "real Valentine." Emails, text messages, phone calls, and bank transactions showed that Leuthold was more than just a sponsor for Aina Dobilaite, although both she and Leuthold maintain their relationship was never sexual.
Brady says all of the evidence, however circumstantial it may be, proves that the murder of Denise Leuthold was not the work of a burglar who panicked after being caught in the act. Instead, it shows her husband had an intense desire to end her life.
"He planned it, he calculated it, then found the opportunity that was most effective," Brady said. "And then, he executed his wife."
Dobilaite's involvement in the crime had also been brought up over the course of the trial. Prosecutors showed a text message she sent shortly after Leuthold told her police were investigating a burglary. The text message simply read, "Interesting :)". While prosecutors say that short message is suspicious, they will not be seeking charges against Dobilaite.
"Even though we think that she knew what was happening, simply having knowledge of a crime, that a crime did occur or will occur, is not accountability in Illinois. So, even knowing something, we wouldn't have been able to charge her," said Hoos.
Dobilaite was also granted immunity in exchange for her testimony. But given the fact that the State was not seemingly able to charge her with a crime to begin with, it seems that the offer of immunity was more of a strategic move on the part of the prosecution to get Dobilaite to take the stand without pleading the fifth.
"That's a fair assessment," Brady said.
Leuthold showed little emotion when the verdict was read to him, and he remained stolid as he was carted out of the courtroom in handcuffs. He will be sentenced for the crime September 10.