Chicago Murder Raises Hate Crime Questions
- Scott Hogenson Executive Editor
- 2002 27 Nov
Authorities said 19-year-old Nicholas Gutierrez is facing charges of first degree murder, burglary and concealing a murder in the Nov. 13 death of 51-year-old Mary Stachowicz. Gutierrez is currently being held in the Cook County, Ill., jail in lieu of $3 million bond.
The arrest report states that Gutierrez "admitted beating and stabbing the victim during a video taped confession," after being taken into custody.
"He described what happened, but it has to be settled in court as to whether that statement is an admission of crime," said Cook County State's attorney's office spokesman Jerry Lawrence. "We think it very clearly implicates him."
But Was It a Hate Crime?
Lawrence said Gutierrez told investigators the alleged motive involved "some sort of dispute over the direction his life was taking."
Friends and associates described Stachowicz as a devout and outspoken Catholic who attended St. Hyacinth Catholic Church in Chicago, which is located across the street from the murder scene, an apartment above the funeral home at which Stachowicz worked.
"The entire argument did relate to his sexuality and her telling him that homosexuality was immoral," said Lawrence. However, Lawrence said, "The evidence so far does not seem to warrant anything along [the] lines," of a hate crime.
He explained that "a hate crime is a Class 4 felony, and would add only 3 years," to any sentence that may be handed down should Gutierrez be found guilty.
Prosecutors have the option of pursuing the murder as a capital case, but no decision has been made. "It could conceivably be a death penalty crime," Lawrence said. "It's too early to say whether we're even considering that."
The nature of the crime has led some to ask whether there's a double standard in how hate crime statutes are applied, as well as how the news media report such events.
"If a gay man had been murdered for trying to convince someone to be gay, it would be a national news story and be deemed a hate crime," said Peter LaBarbera, a policy analyst with the Culture and Family Institute of Concerned Women for America, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank.
"This case tragically displays the intense hatred for Christianity that exists among some in the homosexual community," said LaBarbera.
But the parish priest where Stachowicz attended church disagreed about whether the murder constitutes a hate crime.
Father Rog, who has served at St. Hyacinth since 1985, said he didn't think the murder was a hate crime, even though the police report states that Gutierrez told investigators he allegedly killed Stachowicz in the heat of an argument over homosexuality.
"If she was talking to Nick about converting his life, I can well understand that, psychologically, he could very easily have become very angry," said Rog.
"She would definitely let you know what her religious beliefs were and would certainly want you to listen and to follow," he said. "As the detectives said from the [statement] that was made, she was talking to Nick about homosexuality. She was very, very convinced of her religious beliefs."
A Woman of Faith and Energy
Rog described Stachowicz, a native of Poland and a long-time Chicago resident, as "constantly a volunteer. She was a Eucharistic minister, assisted in distributing food to the poor, and anytime there was anything to be volunteered for, she volunteered."
Those observations were shared by Francine Sikorski, owner of the funeral home where Stachowicz worked part-time handling logistics and Polish translations involved in transportation of bodies back to Poland for burial.
"She was a very religious, family-oriented, church-oriented person," said Sikorski.
She said Stachowicz was a "very giving, very loving," person whom she'd known for several years through the dead woman's work at St. Hyacinth's, which is across the street from the funeral home.
Gutierrez and a male companion rented an apartment above the Sikorski Funeral Home, and police said Stachowicz's body was found in a crawl space beneath the apartment. She had been reported as missing for several days before her body was discovered and an arrest made.
"I couldn't believe it and I still can't believe it," said Sikorski. "I'm surviving a bad nightmare here."
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