Donna Humphrey, the slain mother of a federal judge, was remembered at a funeral service Saturday as a bright and inquisitive woman who was active in her church and gave her time to charity.
Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow held back tears as she entered St. James Presbyterian church outside Denver and walked past large photographs of her mother and her husband, Michael, who were killed last month in an apparent attempt to get even with Lefkow.
Although the man apparently responsible for the slayings has committed suicide, at least a dozen U.S. marshals were stationed around the church and a mobile police command center had been set up as precautions.
Humphrey and Michael Lefkow were found by the judge in the basement of her Chicago home Feb. 28. Humphrey had been visiting from her home in suburban Denver.
'People loved her'
“She was an amazing woman. People loved her. She brought a fresh presence wherever she went,” Pastor Patti Anderson said. “She was incredibly bright and incredibly well-read. She was very rich in language, a self-educated woman. Bright, inquisitive and she didn’t settle for easy answers.”
Many of Humphrey’s poems were prominently displayed in the church lobby Saturday.
Humphrey had been active for 25 years with Network Ministries, a shelter and church in Denver that helped the homeless and mentally ill, said senior minister John Hicks.
“It’s a place where we get together and love folks,” said Hicks, who led the funeral. “She’s been a very good friend.”
Hicks also directly addressed the slaying in his eulogy.
“I just don’t want to walk around the word murder. Donna was murdered. Someone took her life,” he said.
Authorities on Friday were convinced that a DNA match from a cigarette butt proves that a man frustrated over a failed lawsuit, not a white supremacist as had earlier been believed, was the killer of the judge’s husband and mother.
The cigarette butt found in Lefkow’s house was matched to Bart A. Ross, a Chicago electrician who killed himself Wednesday during a traffic stop in Wisconsin, and the evidence points to him as the lone killer, police spokesman David Bayless said.
Ross, whose rambling lawsuit over his cancer treatment was dismissed by Lefkow, had claimed responsibility for the killings in a suicide note found in his minivan and in letters sent to NBC Chicago affiliate WMAQ-TV.
“The DNA match, with all the other evidence, certainly convinces us that Ross is the offender in the Lefkow family homicide,” Bayless said Thursday night.
The judge had returned home from work on Feb. 28 to find her husband and 89-year-old mother fatally shot in the basement.
Judge relieved it wasn't supremacist
She described Ross as “a very pathetic, tragic person,” in an interview with The New York Times published in Friday’s editions.
“I guess on one level I’m relieved that it didn’t have anything to do with the white supremacy movement, because I feel my children are going to be safer,” the judge said. “It’s heartbreaking that my husband and mother had to die over something like this.”
The judge and her five daughters have been in protective custody since the slayings.
Authorities initially focused on associates of white supremacist Matt Hale, who was convicted last year of soliciting Judge Lefkow’s murder. But the letter found Wednesday night after Ross’s suicide instead tied him to the killings, police Superintendent Phil Cline said.
Hale’s father, Russell, said he felt terrible for the Lefkow family but “great relief” for his own family when he learned of Ross’ link to the slayings.
$1 billion lawsuit
Lefkow last fall dismissed a rambling $1 billion lawsuit in which Ross claimed that cancer treatments had disfigured his face and that the U.S. judicial system, which dismissed his medical malpractice claims, “is the Nazi style criminal and violator” of his civil rights. Lefkow’s ruling was upheld by a federal appeals court in January.
Ross, a 57-year-old Polish immigrant with no known ties to extremist groups, shot himself to death on a suburban Milwaukee street after an officer pulled him over for broken brake lights.
“We came upon a note, written presumably by the victim, where he implicated himself in the murders of Michael Lefkow and Donna Humphrey,” Cline said. “In the note, the offender outlined in some detail the events of Monday, February 28th.”
“We’re satisfied that there’s information in the letter that would point us to Ross being in Lefkow’s house,” he said.
Letter to TV station
Besides the suicide note, police were reviewing a handwritten letter received by WMAQ-TV on Thursday and signed by a Bart Ross; the writer described breaking into the Lefkow home before dawn on Feb. 28 with a plan to kill the judge.
The letter said he killed Lefkow’s husband and mother around 9 a.m. after they discovered him hiding in the basement.
“After I shot husband and mother of Judge Lefkow, I had a lot of time to think about life and death. Killing is no fun, even though I knew I was already dead. I gave up further killings on about 1:15 p.m. on Feb. 28, 2005, and left Judge Lefkow’s house,” the station quoted the letter as saying.
Ross also sent WMAQ a typed letter outlining his lawsuit.
Neighbors said Ross, who changed his name from Bartlomiej Ciszewski after he emigrated from Poland in 1982, lived alone with his dog and kept to himself. They described him as intelligent but increasingly angry as his legal fight over his treatment for mouth cancer repeatedly failed.
Other judges listed
After Ross’s suicide, federal marshals also began calling judges named in a letter found in his van.
Authorities said they didn’t know why Ross was in the Milwaukee area on Wednesday. Two federal appeals court judges who upheld dismissals of his lawsuits have offices in Milwaukee. One of those, Terence Evans, said marshals called at 3 a.m. to inform him of the situation.
Ross was issued a parking ticket just before 2 p.m. Wednesday about five blocks from the Milwaukee federal courthouse where the two judges have offices, the Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday.
Around the same time, courthouse security saw Ross walking around the building, the Sun-Times reported, citing unidentified sources.
Federal Judge David Coar, who also dismissed a Ross lawsuit, was working out in a gym at 6 a.m. when his wife called to say the marshals had telephoned with the news.
“I don’t think security is adequate and I never have thought security is adequate,” Coar said. Two other federal judges in Chicago said the same in the wake of the shootings.
In the lawsuit Lefkow dismissed, Ross said his cancer treatments had disfigured his face and caused his teeth to fall out. He accused four doctors of committing “a terrorist act” in giving him radiation therapy.
Ross compared his radiation and surgery with the experiments Nazi doctors performed in concentration camps, demanded the impeachment of judges who had ruled against him, and asked for $250 million in damages from the federal government alone.
'He became more angry'
“As his legal remedies were becoming fewer, as he had less success, he became more angry, more agitated,” said lawyer Thomas Browne, who represented an attorney Ross was suing.
More setbacks came in the last two months as the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Lefkow’s decision to dismiss his latest lawsuit and his landlady began proceedings to evict him from the home he once owned and was now forced to rent.
A hearing in the eviction case had been scheduled for Thursday.
“He became obsessed" with the lawsuit, said Don Rose, a political consultant who met Ross when he did electrical work on a friend’s house. “His health was deteriorating, his money was going away, he couldn’t make any headway in the legal system.”
Rose said he never expected Ross could be violent, but says when he first heard his name on Thursday connected to Lefkow and the murders, “it all fell in place, it all fit together. ... When she dismissed the case, that was like a death sentence.”