Former Chicago lawyer petitions U.S. Supreme Court to overturn his murder conviction
Loop North News

Donnie Rudd
In prison for life, a once-prominent Chicago attorney has petitioned the Supreme Court in one last attempt to overturn his conviction in 2018 for a murder Cook County Circuit Court says he committed in 1973.

3-Oct-21Dr. Donnie Rudd, serving, at age 79, a 75-to-150-year sentence at Pinckneyville Correctional Center in Pinckneyville, Illinois, is asking the United States Supreme Court to review an Appellate Court of Illinois decision and overturn his conviction for murder of his wife 48 years ago.

Rudd has claimed innocence since the cold case investigation started in 2012. He was convicted on July 2, 2018, after a five-day trial. The Appellate Court denied his appeal in 2020. The Illinois Supreme Court declined in January to even hear the case.

Noreen Rudd

At issue is Rudd’s Sixth Amendment rights, specifically his right to an attorney, and when exactly they took effect – when he first appeared in court in 2015 or when he was questioned by police in 2013?

Rudd was arrested on December 16, 2015, for the murder of Noreen Kumeta-Rudd (left), his wife of just 28 days, on September 14, 1973. He was 31 years old. Noreen was 19 years old.

Late at night, driving on what is now Route 68 near Bateman Road in Cook County, Rudd says an oncoming car in his lane ran him off the road, causing Noreen to be ejected from his car. He says she hit her head on a rock. Her death was ruled accidental but in 2016, after a four-year investigation by the Arlington Heights Police Department, exhumation of Noreen’s body, and an autopsy, a grand jury indicted Rudd, concluding there was evidence the young woman died from multiple blows to the head.

The motive, said prosecutors, was a $100,000 life insurance policy of which Rudd was the beneficiary. When questioned by police in 2013, Rudd denied knowing he was the beneficiary but said such a policy was “customary back then” and common among employees at Quaker Oats, where he worked as a patent attorney and Noreen worked as a librarian.

Rudd (right) later tried unsuccessfully to get the statement suppressed, saying he did not have an attorney with him as provided by the Sixth Amendment. The statement ended up being used against him in his trial.

Donnie Rudd

Rudd says police did not even tell him they had an arrest warrant for him, which they decided not to execute at the time, and so, he says, he was unaware of the seriousness of his situation.

The Illinois Appellate Court ruled, however, that Rudd’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel was not in effect during the 2013 interview with police, and even if it was, Rudd had waived his right to counsel. And even if he did not know about the arrest warrant, the court said “the seriousness of the situation could not have been lost” on him.

His attorney, Timothy Grace of Grace & Thompson in River North, says there is a right to an attorney at “critical stages” of the process.

Timothy Grace

“Obviously, when you’re actually at trial, we call that a critical stage,” said Grace (left) on Saturday. “And there are certain points in the criminal process – when you go to bond court, when you go to your probable cause hearing – those are critical stages. Well, other times might be critical stages, too, all depending on what is the government’s effort and involvement in the case. What have they put into the case?”

Grace says a “significant amount of government effort” had gone into the case before Rudd was questioned in 2013.

“They had exhumed bodies, they had flown to Atlanta, they had brought witnesses up,” Grace said. “I think they had contracted with, like, three different doctors and medical pathologists and all kinds of stuff. So at that point, I’m asking the court to say, like other courts have said, don’t you think that amount of pre-warrant effort would require the state to say, just so you know, you’re more than just under investigation for murder. [We] actually have a warrant for your arrest for murder right now.”

Grace says the Illinois Supreme Court should have considered whether the jury in the trial court should have been told Rudd was the beneficiary of his wife’s insurance policy.

“That is just so prejudicial,” he said. “When you remove the insurance proceeds from this thing, there’s really not a lot of motive on Donnie’s part. He’s got a beautiful young bride. Why would he do this?”

Grace says it was never proved that Rudd knew about the insurance policy. Rudd’s statements in 2013 about the policy, he says, should have been suppressed and not used at his trial.

Rudd timeline

(Above) Key dates in the Rudd case from 2013 through 2021.

Competition for court’s attention

According to U.S. Courts, the Supreme Court agrees to hear about 100-150 of more than 7,000 cases it is asked to review each year.

“Hopefully, we grab somebody, some law clerk or someone who says this is an interesting issue, and it keeps getting pushed up,” Grace said.

According to Grace, Rudd has had “a lot of medical problems,” including COVID-19, but “his brain is still there.”

“I was in grade school when this guy’s a lawyer, but according to everything and based on his history with all the stuff he’s done in the scientific community, this is a pretty bright guy.”

 Previous story: 75-to-150 years in prison for former Chicago attorney convicted of 1973 murder

By Steven Dahlman | Loop North News | sdahlman@loopnorth.com

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