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Insanity defense planned in attack of elderly couple
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/25/2007 5:24 PM

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The lawyer for a West Chicago man accused of a vicious attack on an elderly couple out feeding birds is planning an insanity defense.

David Martinez Villareal, 23, faces first-degree murder charges for the Jan. 9, 2006 attack that killed a West Chicago woman.

Mireille Ellberg, 72, died March 1 after never fully regaining consciousness, nearly 14 months after an assailant beat her and ran her over with the couple's truck.

Jeff York, a senior assistant DuPage County public defender, said Villareal is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. One mental health expert found him insane. A judge appointed a second expert Tuesday to also evaluate the defendant.

Studies show insanity defenses are used in just 1 percent of cases nationwide, and are successful only 5 percent of the time. One recent high-profile example is Marilyn Lemak, the Naperville mother who killed her three children in 1999. She lost an insanity defense and is serving a life sentence.

The argument shifts the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense, and York will have to convince a judge or jury Villareal fits a very narrow classification of the law which, in its simplest terms, means he did not understand right from wrong at the time of the crime because of a mental disease or defect.

Villareal is accused of repeatedly pummeling the then-65-year-old man, James Ellberg, in the face without provocation while the couple were feeding birds and stray animals.

Prosecutor Robert Berlin has said Villareal then punched Mireille Ellberg in the face and, as she lay on the ground, repeatedly kicking her. James Ellberg tried to intervene. Berlin said Villareal punched and kicked him to the ground before driving off in the couple's idling pickup.

Authorities accuse Villareal of running over the unconscious woman's head and torso while fleeing. Police captured him minutes later. James Ellberg recovered from his injuries. But Mireille Ellberg was never well enough to return home.

A judge found Villareal temporarily unfit to stand trial in June 2006 after experts diagnosed him with schizophrenia. Villareal was transferred to a state mental hospital for treatment.

He returned to jail after an Oct. 16, 2006 hearing in which experts agreed his condition had improved. Villareal remains in jail on a $2 million bond and is due back in court Nov. 13.