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Jury to hear bizarre case of former Northwestern professor accused of sexual thrill-killing

Megan Crepeau, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

In pre-gag-order public comments and in court, Lathem’s attorneys have portrayed him as nothing short of a genius. He is an accomplished microbiologist and immunologist who had spent about 10 years at Northwestern University. The university suspended him and banned him from campus after the warrant was issued for his arrest, then announced it was firing him because he fled police.

But before that, Lathem conducted extensive research on Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that decimated Europe during the Black Death.

He had been slated to move his lab to the prestigious Institut Pasteur in France, until he was denied security clearance to work with dangerous pathogens. French authorities did not provide the reason for rejection, a spokesperson for the institute told the Tribune in 2017.

During Lathem’s first Cook County court appearance, Lathem’s attorneys gave the judge dozens of letters attesting to his character and academic accomplishments. Last year they made repeated efforts — all unsuccessful — to get him released on bond so he could help research the novel coronavirus.

 

And the defense is expected to call at least one character witness attesting to Lathem’s “reputation for truthfulness,” attorneys said in court last week.

Other than that, little has been disclosed about what jurors might hear. The bulk of the public proceedings during Lathem’s last two pretrial hearings was devoted to attorneys’ request that all jurors be vaccinated against COVID-19, a request the judge denied.

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