Prosecutors say he was angry they wouldn’t convert to Islam
James A. Larry was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to killing his mother, pregnant wife, infant son and two nieces last year on the South Side. (May 4, 2011)
7:38 p.m. CDT, May 4, 2011
A man who was angry that his family would not go along with his conversion to Islam was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday in the slayings of his mother, pregnant wife, infant son and two nieces in a rampage last year on the South Side.
James A. Larry, 33, of Madison, Wis., pleaded guilty last month to multiple counts of murder, attempted murder and the intentional homicide of an unborn child.
The bald, bearded defendant issued a quiet apology in Judge James Linn’s courtroom, as several surviving members of the family stood at a podium and clutched one another.
“I’m sorry for what I did to my family,” Larry said, standing in a tan jail jumpsuit, his hands clasped behind his back. “I regret it every day, and I pray for them.”
Family members chose not to submit victim-impact statements for the judge to consider and declined to speak after the hearing, telling a court liaison they were simply relieved the case was over.
Prosecutors said Larry came to Chicago in April 2010 bent on slaughtering his relatives at the home in the Marquette Park neighborhood. He had converted to Islam while serving a prison sentence in Wisconsin for a weapons conviction.
“He was upset at his wife and their family — he felt disrespected that they would not join his religion,” Assistant State’s Attorney Jim McKay said. “It didn’t matter if they were young or old, pregnant or not. He wanted them dead.”
The massacre began in the early morning hours April 14, at the family home in the 7400 block of South Mozart Street. Larry first shot his mother, Leona Larry, 57, as she slept on a sofa in the living room. He then went systematically through three first-floor bedrooms, fatally shooting his wife, Twanda Thompson, 19; his 7-month-old son, Jihad; his 3-year-old niece, Keleasha Larry; and his 16-year-old niece, Keyshai Fields, who was pregnant.
Larry also shot his 13-year-old nephew, Demond Larry, in the face, but the boy survived. The defendant then kicked in the bedroom door of a man who lived in the basement of the home and tried to shoot him, but no bullets fired, prosecutors said.
After Larry’s 12-year-old niece awoke to the gunfire and saw her bloodied relatives, she ran out of the house. Larry chased her down the street and fired but missed, prosecutors said. The girl made it to a gas station and called her mom.
When Larry was arrested a short time later, he said to police that Allah told him to kill his family, according to court records. A police report quoted him as saying: “I wish I had more bullets. I wish I had more bullets.”
Linn remarked in court that, based on the accounts of the defendant’s erratic behavior, he expected to see some evidence of underlying psychiatric issues. But in the end, he said, “there were none.”
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Larry before the state’s recent ban on capital punishment. McKay said the fact the slayings were premeditated made Larry’s case “call out for the death penalty.”
“It is anybody’s guess how long he had planned and prepared for that day,” McKay said.