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Chicago Tribune

March 1, 2000

Author: Art Barnum, Tribune Staff Writer

Although he has been ruled fit to stand trial for the shooting death of his 7-year-old son, the mental state of 49-year-old Stephen Buik took center stage Tuesday as his murder trial began.

Buik, an unemployed mechanic, lived in a Villa Park split-level in the 800 block of South Ardmore Avenue, with his former wife, her three teenage children from a previous marriage and their children, Bonnie, 9, and 7-year-old Alex.Assistant State’s Atty. Daniel Guerin said with Buik unemployed, the family had become dysfunctional. The teens often did not work or attend school and family quarrels were virtually a daily occurrence, often over Buik’s contention that the children lacked respect for their mother, failed to perform household chores and refused to clean their rooms. One dispute turned violent on Oct. 25, 1994. In a quarrel at the kitchen table between Buik and his stepdaughter, Linda Anderson, then 17, Buik became enraged, pulled out a gun and shot at the ceiling.

Then, according to testimony from his former wife, Kathy Danca, in a DuPage County courtroom on Tuesday, Buik fired the gun at Danca, striking her in the back. Although injured, Danca said she saw Alex standing at the top of the basement stairs, rushed to pick him up and tried to flee down the stairs.

More shots were fired, Danca said, and soon she saw Alex’s head snap back and blood pouring from the boy’s head. She laid him on the basement floor, went back up the stairs looking for the telephone and saw Buik place the gun to his own head and fire.

Before shooting himself, Guerin said, Buik had chased Anderson into the living room where he fired several shots into her torso.

When Villa Park police arrived, they found Alex dead from multiple wounds to his head and heart, Danca and Anderson both in critical condition, and a groggy Buik holding paper towels to his head wound.

After the shootings, Buik was sent to hospitals and mental health facilities. In the last four years, Buik has appeared in courtrooms at various times strapped on gurneys, in a wheelchair and wearing protective headgear. During recent hearings, however, he has walked unaided and has communicated with his attorneys.

Last year, after a hotly contested hearing, DuPage Judge Ronald Mehling ruled that Buik was fit for trial.

As Tuesday’s trial began, however, senior public defender Gloria Najera again noted her objection, claiming that it was still her contention that Buik is not fit for trial.

Although Buik appears awkward when he walks and he sits motionless for long periods, Buik on Tuesday answered all of trial Judge Robert Anderson’s questions clearly and to the point. Anderson is presiding over what is expected to be a weeklong bench trial.

In opening arguments, Guerin claimed that “Buik was angry and unhappy with his wife and children and he wanted to kill them.  He told police, `They were unhappy, and I was unhappy.’ ”

He said that Buik wrote Danca numerous letters from the Elgin Mental Health Hospital where he was confined for several years. “My last thoughts (about Alex) was the stress he caused being the boy he was. . . . I also miss him and know I am responsible,” he wrote.

Najera questioned Danca about Buik’s condition before the shooting, including use of drugs such as Prozac, lithium and Xanax and about other medical conditions.

Guerin repeatedly objected to the line of questioning claiming that, because there was no defense claim that Buik was insane at the time of the shooting, that information is irrelevant.

Najera, however, countered that Buik’s state of mind is very important to the defense.  Judge Anderson allowed some, but not all of that information into the record.