THE JOURNEY OF JUDGE JOAN LEFKOW

The journey of Judge Joan Lefkow

More than once she types, "I don't remember."

Other people who were there that night and the days right afterward would remember things she didn't remember, or didn't feel inclined to write:

The rumpled hotel beds and curtains drawn against the daylight. The girls drifting in and out of rooms, holding each other, weeping.

One daughter sobbing, "I want my daddy, I want my daddy, I want my daddy."

Joan rocking her daughters in her arms.

Joan shrunken to the bone.

Joan, composed, signing funeral papers.

The sleeping pills.

The rifles.

The marshals hoped the family didn't know about the weapons propped against a wall in a room down the hotel hall, on alert for the next attack by an unknown killer who had left no explanation beyond a cigarette butt in the kitchen sink.

In her typed account, which she titled "Our Tragedy," Lefkow also mentions Matt Hale.

"You know who I am," she'd said to the officers who swarmed into the house that night. "I'm the federal judge that was threatened by Matt Hale's group."

By February 2005, Lefkow and her family had grown accustomed to the notion that someone wanted her dead.

That someone was Matthew Hale, the so-called Pontifex Maximus of a racist so-called church he ran from a bedroom in his father's house in East Peoria. He was engaged in a trademark dispute with a New Age group in Oregon. Lefkow initially ruled in Hale's favor but when an appeals court overturned her, she ordered his church to give up its name.

Out on the Internet, Hale and his followers took to vilifying her as a Jew judge, though she's Episcopalian, and as the grandmother of biracial children, children she loved but was related to only through marriage to Michael. The haters posted her address.

"During the Spring," reported the 2004 Lefkow Christmas letter, in Michael's cheerful voice, on stationery rimmed with holly, "Joan was called as a witness at the trial of Matthew Hale, the white supremacist charged with soliciting her murder. A supporting family cast on the benches saw her acquit herself well in the witness chair, a seat she is unused to filling. The jury, by the way, convicted Mr. Hale of the crime and he awaits sentencing."

Had Hale manipulated the February killings from his jail cell, where he reportedly sat singing opera, taking Prozac and complaining of his persecution? If not him, who?

For nine days, Lefkow lived not knowing where the next shot might hit, or why, sure of one thing only: This happened because of her. Her work.

She was sitting in her sister's house in Denver on March 9, preparing for her mother's funeral, when a marshal walked in.

Some guy, an out-of-work electrician, Polish, had just shot himself to death in a van near Milwaukee. He left a confession. Had she heard of him?

CHICAGO

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