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Appealing cases: Judge Henry "Skip" Tonigan II '72

  Mary Boone  

Judge Henry “Skip” Tonigan III ’72 received his juris doctorate degree from Southern Methodist University in 1975.

Tonigan was in private practice prior to becoming a judge in 1983; his practice focused on civil litigation and real estate law and included handling condemnation cases for both landowners and government entities.

Elected to the position of circuit judge in 1992, he has served in all civil and criminal assignments and was chief judge of suburban Chicago’s Lake and McHenry counties from 1998 to 2000. He currently is presiding judge of the locale’s civil division.

Among his more noted decisions: In 1996, he held unconstitutional a “no-knock” statute that had allowed police to execute a search warrant without first knocking and announcing their business.

Tonigan and his wife, Becci, live in Barington with their children, Henry IV “Chip” and Alexandria.

The Case: People v. Schlager
Seymour and Diane Schlager seemed to have it all. They had two children and lived in a $420,000 home in an exclusive Chicago suburb. A former Notre Dame University professor, Seymour was a respected physician and researcher who earned a six figure salary. He had been selected to head AIDS research at Abbott Labs. But things weren’t as rosy as they seemed.

In September 1990, Seymour began an affair with a young coworker named Melinda. To keep the affair going, he admitted he “became sneaky and devious and fabricated a number of lies.” Among the fibs: Seymour gave Melinda what she thought was an expensive diamond ring. He even showed her a forged appraisal certificate placing the ring’s value at $62,000. In reality, the ring was a $70 fake he had stolen from his wife’s jewely box.

On another occasion, Diane scheduled a romantic anniversary dinner at Gordon’s restaurant in Chicago. Seymour told her to cancel the reservations because Abbott Labs was sending him to Tokyo on business. Although he did ring in the New Year with a trip, his destination was the Chicago Hotel Intercontinental with Melinda, whom he took to Gordon’s—twice. After the weekend tryst, Seymour gave his wife a full account of his trip to “Tokyo,” including the name of the inflight movie he watched.

On Feb. 12, 1991, Seymour and Diane sent the kids to bed, watched the 10 p.m. news, and retired to the bedroom. After Diane got into bed, Seymour began pacing. When Diane asked him what was wrong he said he was just nervous and she should go to sleep. A short time later Diane woke up because Seymour had been getting in and out of bed. She also thought she heard “crinkling” noises. At that point Diane noticed one of the bed pillows was lying on the floor, covered with plastic.

Seymour then left the bed oom and Diane dozed off. A short while late she awoke and discovered her husband in the living room. He followed Diane back to the bedroom, began crying, and told her he was depressed. Diane suggested they call a psychiatrist, but Seymour refused. He then climbed on top of Diane, held her down, and said he thought he was having a nervous breakdown. She agreed and tried to console him, but he rolled away and told her not to touch him. Diane once again tried to get a little sleep.

Sometime after 4 a.m., she awoke to find her husband sitting at the edge of their bed. Seymour reached down, grabbed the plastic-covered pillow, jumped onto his wife, and forced it over her face in an attempt to smother her. After struggling for a few minutes, one of them kicked over a lamp. When it crashed to the floor, Seymour let Diane up. As she screamed fo the kids to call 911, Seymour muttered, “What am I doing? What am I doing? You’re my wife. I love you.”

Hoping to trigger the home’s burglar alarm, Diane made a break for the front door. Seymour beat her to the punch and deactivated the alarm. Diane grabbed a kitchen knife and ordered her husband to sit on the couch until the police arrived.

After Seymour was arrested, he told the police that he had been under unbearable stress at work and had not slept more than 30 to 45 minutes in the 48 hours before the attack. He also informed the officers he had tried to kill himself using the plastic bag.

He said the pressures of AIDS research and leading a double life led him to self-prescribe Calan SR. The drug, according to defense witnesses, can cause severe sleep dysfunctions, insomnia, and violent dreams. Seymour claimed to suffer from bad dreams prior to the attack on his wife. Many witnesses testified, including Diane and the Schlagers’ 16 year old daughter, both of whom said Seymour told them three to four weeks before the attack that he had stopped taking Calan SR. Arresting officers and Seymour’s mistress also took the stand. Finally, the state played an audiocassette Seymour made for his children prior to trial in which he discussed his affair with Melinda, denied he ever admitted to the crime, expressed remorse, and explained he never intended to harm Diane.

The court also discovered Seymour had a fake PhD. Given the state of the evidence, Seymour did not testify.

Seymour was found guilty of attempted murder and Judge Tonigan sentenced him to 13 years in p ison. Seymour appealed, alleging that his trial counsel’s performance was constitutionally deficient; the Illinois Appellate Court rejected his claim. After the Illinois Supreme Court denied him leave to appeal, he filed a petition fo a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. The district court denied the petition and appeals.

“The defendant went from giving fake rocks to pounding rocks,” said Judge Tonigan, “with plenty of hard time to work on his sleep.”

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