CHICAGO — A former Northwestern University professor awaiting trial on murder charges at Cook County Jail wants to be released so he can assist with research into the coronavirus pandemic.
Wyndham Lathem, 45, has been held without bail since August 2017. He is accused of the fatal stabbing of his 26-year-old boyfriend Trenton Cornell-Duranleu in what prosecutors described as part of a murder-suicide sex fantasy. The slaying was followed by a multi-state manhunt that included a video apology and charitable donations made in the victim’s name.
Lathem, an expert in the bubonic plague who spent a decade on the Northwestern faculty, has pleaded not guilty. But in July 2019, former Oxford University staffer Andrew Warren pleaded guilty to assisting Lathem in the murder and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and testify against him in exchange for a 45-year prison sentence, which could be reduced upon his return to his native United Kingdom.
Shortly after his Warren’s plea agreement, one of Lathem’s attorneys told a columnist the ex-professor had been informally teaching biology, science and politics to other detainees in protective custody at the jail during their limited outdoor time. Since then, Cook County Jail has become one of the country’s top coronavirus hot spots. According to the sheriff’s office, there have been nearly 950 cases detected among inmates and staff as of Thursday, with more than 700 of them having recovered. At least seven detainee deaths have been tied to COVID-19, and three sheriff’s office employees have died.
Arguing his medical expertise could help fight COVID-19, Lathem’s attorneys last month made their first request to the judge in his case to allow the microbiologist to be released ahead of trial, noting his research skills and arguing his health conditions could make him more vulnerable to COVID-19 complications.
In a court filing, they said jail nursing staff asked the former associate professor of microbiology and immunology for advice on how to contain the outbreak, with one allegedly telling him she wished he were “not in a jumpsuit,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Cook County Circuit Judge Charles Burns rejected the request.
Dr. William Goldman, chair of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of North Carolina, wrote a letter in support of Lathem’s pretrial release that was included in the motion.
“With his background and experience, Dr. Lathem is well-suited to advise and participate in studies that are aimed at understanding SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “It would make sense to take advantage of as many experts as possible during this worldwide crisis that is rapidly expanding in scope.”
Lathem’s lawyers Thursday made a second request for emergency bail to the judge in his case at a hearing held over video conference, the Chicago Tribune reported. Cook County Circuit Judge Charles Burns delayed issuing a decision on the request until prosecutors have more time to prepare their arguments and he has a chance to potentially vet the person Lathem’s attorneys propose could monitor him if he was released from custody.