An Illinois man has been charged with more than four dozen counts of first-degree murder in the death of his ex-girlfriend’s daughter.
Michael Mernack, 36, of Rockford, Illinois, is accused of breaking into an apartment in the early morning hours of Dec. 28, 2016, and killing 16-year-old Rebecca Finkenhofer. He was then shot by police and spent more than a month in the hospital while murder charges were pending.
A grand jury later handed down a 54-count indictment that included 45 counts counts of first-degree murder, home invasion, aggravated battery and attempted murder. Mernack pleaded not guilty to all charges last week.
Finkenhofer’s death was part of a violent end to 2016 for the Rockford, Illinois, area, the metropolis of 400,000 an hour west of Chicago. Rockford is the fifth-most dangerous city in the United States.
Mernack faces life in prison if convicted.
Police say he arrived at the teen’s apartment the evening of Dec. 27, likely to harm Finkenhofer’s mother, Megan Cabay. After he allegedly broke down the door, an armed Mernack instead encountered Cabay’s 62-year-old mother and shot her in the face. Finkenhofer fought the gunman, and was able to lead him out of the apartment. It was outside the door where police say Mernack shot and stabbed the high school sophomore to death. Finkenhofer’s six-year-old sister was found hiding under a blanket. Cabay’s mother underwent emergency surgery and survived.
Cabay told reporters after the shooting that Mernack, who has a documented history of violence, was under court order to keep away from her and her family. She filed a restraining order against him last November after he allegedly punched her.
“He had every intention of killing me,” Cabay told Rockford Advocate. “But I wasn’t there, so he went after two people who are close to my heart.”
Rebecca’s father, Tim Finkenhofer, filed charges against Mernack a month earlier, when Mernack allegedly threatened him with a weapon.
“I called my daughter to let her know I was on her block,” Tim Finkenhofer said. “A man answered the phone, said ‘hello,’ then hung up.”
Finkenhofer said the man was Michael Mernack. He attempted to introduce himself, but Mernack wanted nothing to do with pleasantries. Instead, Finkenhofer said Mernack threatened to “break his jaw” if he didn’t leave the apartment. Things then nearly spiraled out of control.
Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana says 36 year old Michael E. Mernack is the suspect in today's homicide on Minns Dr in Machesney Park. pic.twitter.com/G3IeNXsUaO
— Crime Stoppers (@Rockfordcrime) December 28, 2016
“It escalated very fast,” Finkenhofer said. “On my way down the stairs, he came at me with a knife, saying he would end me. Another inch and he would have hit my throat.”
Finkenhofer filed a criminal complaint and sought a restraining order, barring Mernack from Cabay’s home for two weeks. But, when the order wasn’t extended, Mernack was permitted to return. That’s when Cabay said her relationship with her new boyfriend began to deteriorate.
Mernack was arrested for domestic battery a month later; Cabay also received an extended restraining order against him. Mernack later bailed out of jail.
Cabay said Mernack initially kept his distance and complied with the court order. However, when she left for work Dec. 27, she had no idea her shift would end in horror. While working as a CNA at a local hospital, Cabay was visited by police, who broke the news that her daughter had been killed by an armed intruder.
“It was the worst night of my life,” Cabay said in Rockford news report. “I lost my best friend.”
Rebecca Finkenhofer was pronounced dead at the scene.
Mernack was shot by officers when he refused to drop his gun and allegedly pointed it at officers. He was transported to a local hospital and was guarded by officers for the next month and a half.
[Featured Image by Winnebago County (IL) Jail]