By Dennis Cauchon, USA TODAY
A federal judge who was targeted for assassination by a white supremacist was under the protection of federal marshals Tuesday after her husband and mother were shot to death in Chicago.
U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, 61, found her husband and mother in the basement of her home when she returned from work about 6 p.m. Monday. They were identified as Michael Lefkow, 64, an attorney, and Donna Humphrey, 89, who was visiting from Denver.
Police said it was too early to say whether the double homicide is linked to a plot to kill the judge. White supremacist Mathew Hale was convicted in April 2004 of conspiring to have his bodyguard kill Lefkow in retaliation for rulings she made against him in a copyright case involving the name of his group. Hale, 33, is scheduled to be sentenced for soliciting murder and obstruction of justice April 6.
"There is much speculation about possible links between this crime and the possible involvement of hate groups," said James Molloy, Chicago police chief of detectives. "This is but one facet of our investigation. We are looking into many, many directions, but it would be far too early to draw any definitive links."
Chicago police, the FBI (news
- web sites
) and the U.S. Marshals Service have formed a 13-member task force to investigate the crime.
Hale's father said his son could not have had a role in the murders because he is under constant surveillance at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago.
"There would be no way he could order anything. It's ridiculous," Russell Hale, a former police officer in East Peoria, Ill., told the Associated Press.
Matthew Hale attracted national attention in 1999 when one of his followers, Benjamin Smith, went on a shooting rampage targeting minorities. Two people were killed and nine wounded. Smith killed himself as police closed in.
Hale was arrested in January 2003. Prosecutors at his trial said Hale was angry because Lefkow had ordered him to stop calling his group the World Church of the Creator. The ruling came after Hale lost a copyright suit to an Oregon church of the same name that has no ties to Hale. Lefkow held Hale in contempt of court.
Hale said the judge was biased against him because she had married a Jew. Michael Lefkow was Episcopalian, as is the judge.
Lefkow and her family temporarily received police protection after Hale's arrest.
Lefkow was appointed to the federal bench in 2000 by President Clinton (news
- web sites
). She had served as a bankruptcy court judge and a federal magistrate since 1982.
Joan and Michael Lefkow had been married for 30 years and had four daughters. Michael Lefkow was a veteran Chicago trial attorney who had run unsuccessfully for a county judge position in 2002.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which protects judges, says if the murders are linked to Lefkow's work, it would be the first time a judge's family members have been killed in connection with a judge's job.
Killings of U.S. judges and attacks against their families are rare. John Wood, a San Antonio federal district judge, was shot to death in 1979, the first sitting federal judge slain in the 20th century. Wood was known as "Maximum John" for handing out tough sentences against drug dealers. Charles Harrelson, the father of actor Woody Harrelson, was convicted of murder and is serving a life sentence without parole.
Federal Judge Richard Daronco was shot to death at his home in Pelham, N.Y., in 1988. His attacker, Charles Koster, then fatally shot himself.
Federal appeals Judge Robert Vance was killed by a bomb mailed to his suburban home near Birmingham, Ala., in 1989. Walter Leroy Moody is on Alabama's death row after being convicted of state charges in the case.
Contributing: Associated Press