Highland Park parade shooting suspect declines plea deal after confusion in court

The man accused of killing seven people and injuring dozens more at Highland Park’s Fourth of July Parade in 2022 has rejected a plea deal that would have resulted in a life sentence.

The stunning move unfolded about one week before the two-year anniversary of the mass shooting. Now, the alleged gunman is set to stand trial next year. 

Robert Crimo III, 23, initially pleaded not guilty to 21 counts of first-degree murder – three counts for each person killed – along with 48 counts of attempted murder and 48 counts of aggravated battery.

On Wednesday morning, he appeared in court with his public defenders and was expected to change his plea.

The defendant’s attorneys said their client would plead guilty to seven counts of first-degree murder and 48 additional counts for a total of 55 counts.

However, at the eleventh hour, the accused shooter backed out of the deal.

When Judge Victoria Rossetti asked him if he agreed to the pre-negotiated deal, Crimo fell silent before leaving the courtroom during a recess.

Upon returning to the courtroom, the defendant – who was in a wheelchair despite having no visible injuries – was asked the same question. He glanced around the room – where shooting survivors and victims’ loved ones were seated – and said ‘no.’

"He is evil and manipulative and brought us here today, probably knowing what he was going to do," said Leah Sundheim, Jacki Sundheim’s daughter.

Next week will mark two years since Leah Sundheim’s mom was tragically taken from her. Jacki Sundheim is one of seven people who never made it home from Highland Park’s Independence Day parade in 2022. 

"All I wanted was to be able to fully grieve my mom without the looming trial," said Sundheim.

Chicago trial attorney Karen Conti shares that Crimo very well may have planned the entire charade.

"It could very well be a stunt, and you see people who do this, they want attention, they like attention," said Conti. "When you deal with somebody who has an anti-social behavior pattern like he does, these are people who like to be in control."

The accused shooter's uncle, Paul Crimo, spoke with FOX 32 Chicago exclusively after the hearing.

"When I saw his face and I saw him shaking his head in the courtroom, I knew something was going on," said Paul Crimo.

While he remains in contact with his own brother, who left the courthouse with no comment, Paul Crimo tells FOX 32 he has no direct communication with his nephew.

"We were all hoping for closure today, but it never came," said Paul Crimo. "It breaks my heart for all the families of the victims out there."

The deal would have resulted in a sentence of natural life in prison plus 30 years concurrently for each aggravated battery count, avoided a trial, and marked the start of a new chapter for loved ones and survivors.

"We are not a weak community, we are a strong community," said Ashbey Beasley, a community member.

As another victim’s daughter shared after the hearing, this will not deter them from seeking justice.

"My dad was somebody who loved his family and we’re going to keep sticking together and being there for each other," said Karina Mendez, Eduardo Uvaldo’s daughter.

The alleged shooter will remain in Lake County Jail until his criminal trial, which is set for Feb. 24, 2025, but is subject to change.

"Our office will have limited public comment because the case remains open, and is set for trial in February 2025," said Lake County State's Attorney Eric Rinehart.

"We have worked closely with the victims over the last few days and weeks in anticipation of today. We will continue to support them. The entire trial team and group of victim support specialists met with victims and survivors for as long as they wanted today, and we will be ready for trial," he added.

The Lake County State's Attorney's Office contacted the victims and their families last week, informing them of the possible plea change.

Mike Bonamarte, who represents three people who survived the shooting, tells FOX 32 Chicago his clients were among the victims contacted.

"All three of them were shot in the leg, there’s varying degrees of injuries. Zoe had a fractured femur, multiple surgeries, she was out of work for a long time, she’s a Chicago schoolteacher. She’s back to work now, but with accommodations," said Bonamarte, managing partner of Levin & Perconti.

Ahead of Wednesday's hearing, Bonamarte said the change in plea could offer much-needed closure for some of the families.

"But as you can imagine, the emotional suffering that all three of them have experienced continues to this day," said Bonamarte.

Next week, on the Fourth of July, the City of Highland Park is holding a series of events that officials say will "balance the diverse needs within the community by providing space for remembrance as well as familiar traditions."

The schedule includes a remembrance ceremony, a parade with a reconfigured route, and the return of Fourth Fest. For details on the full schedule, CLICK HERE