True Crime: Illinois Man Found Guilty Of Murder In 2008 Killing Of Lawyer

An Illinois man was found guilty of multiple counts of first-degree murder this week in the 2008 slaying of his criminal defense attorney.

Richard E. Wanke, 55, of Rockford, shot Gregory Clark three times in the back Feb. 6, 2008, marking one of the area’s most gripping tales of true crime in recent years.

Wanke shot Clark, 60, because a judge would not allow the lawyer to withdraw from his criminal case. Clark was Wanke’s court-appointed attorney in a burglary that was set for sentencing two days after the shooting. Wanke, who was out on bail when the murder occurred, was taken into custody hours later, but was not charged with the crime. He was later sentenced to 14 years in prison and was up for parole in 2014. Instead of being freed, Wanke was served with an indictment for murder.

According to the Rockford Register Star, the jury began deliberating at around 3:20 p.m., Wednesday, and came back with the verdict, guilty on all counts, a few hours later.

Wanke gained dozens of supporters over the years. Some have even helped maintain a website bearing his name. Most have been true-crime sleuths, old friends and conspiracy theorists with alternative scenarios, all of which peg Wanke as a patsy.

The most popular theory, according to Wanke’s website, was that high-ranking officials within the Rockford Police Department failed to focus on other suspects and named Richard the shooter because he was Clark’s last client and that the two argued during his burglary case.

Wanke claimed that the deputy police chief, whom he sued years earlier, framed him for the murder. The deputy chief died in 2015 and his statements were not used at trial.

Wanke’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Nick Zimmerman, questioned several aspects of the state’s case, including what he called a suggestive photo lineup created hours after the shooting, an eyewitness account of a 7-year-old girl, and varying descriptions of the van driven by the killer.

Some witnesses called the van blue. Others called it purple. The victim’s wife, who heard three shots, then saw the gunman running away from Clark’s body, said the van was two-tone in color. The vehicle was later identified as one owned by Wanke’s girlfriend. It was a 1998 Dodge Caravan, blueish-green with gold trim and wheels. It was the vehicle spotted in front of the victim’s house before the murder and after the attorney was shot while operating a snowblower during a blizzard.

The 7-year-old girl said she saw her neighbor, Greg Clark, talking to a tall man while she was playing in the snow with her dog. She then heard gunshots and also saw the suspect run toward the van. The girl, now 16, testified that she barely remembers the day Clark was murdered, but recalls being interviewed by police two days later. The interview was videotaped and played in court.

Zimmerman said the account was likely inaccurate and that what the girl remembered may have been provided to her by people in her neighborhood.

“The problem is, she’s five or six houses away in the middle of a snowstorm,” he said. “Did she see things, or was she told things?”

Prosecutors, however, said all roads lead to Richard Wanke, who committed an unconscionable crime, a murder to get his attorney off his case.

“He wanted Mr. Clark dead,” Marilyn Hite Ross, chief of the criminal bureau for the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office, said in her final statement. “Get Greg Clark off the case by any means necessary.”

True crime fanatics were also captivated about another shooting incident involving Greg Clark, on Nov. 4, 2007, a day before he was to appear in court in Wanke’s burglary case. That night, the silence of a crisp northern Illinois evening was shattered by a gunshot as a bullet soared past Clark’s head while he dragged his trash to the curb. The slug went though a window across the street and embedded in a neighbor’s interior wall. It was compared to the slugs removed from Clark’s torso.

A firearms examiner testified that all four bullets were fired from the same gun, a.380-caliber semiautomatic.

“Feb. 6 was the do-over,” Hite Ross said. “Because he missed on Nov. 4.”

The gun was never recovered.

Several sentencing enhancers were decided by the jury, which could send Wanke to prison for the rest of his life. The jury found that Wanke discharged a firearm that proximately caused death, the victim was 60 or older, the crime was heinous, calculated and premeditated and that the defendant committed murder to prevent Clark from participating in a criminal investigation. A post-trial hearing is set for March 14.

[Featured Image by Winnebago County jail]