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The high-profile trial of a renowned microbiologist and former professor accused of the murder of his boyfriend, who died in a plot the academic allegedly concocted with a former Oxford University employee in 2017 to fulfill a shared sexual murder-suicide fantasy, has gotten underway this week in Chicago.
Wyndham Lathem, 47, is accused of the 2017 stabbing death of his boyfriend, 26-year-old hairstylist Trenton James Cornell-Duranleau, in his River North condo in the summer of 2017. Prosecutors allege that the former Northwestern University professor and Oxford University financial officer Andrew Warren conspired to kill Cornell-Duranleau after meeting in an online chat room.
Warren has already pleaded guilty to murder and been sentenced to 45 years in prison; as part of his plea deal, he agreed to testify against Lathem, who has been held in the Cook County Jail since being extradited from California, where the pair was captured after an eight-day manhunt in 2017. As part of Warren’s deal, he will be allowed to serve the majority of his sentence in an English prison, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
On Monday, jury selection and opening statements, as well as the testimony of one witness for the prosecution, were expected to take place in the Chicago courtroom.
Cornell-Duranleau, 26, was found dead, having been stabbed dozens of times in Lathem’s 10th-floor condo on July 27, 2017; police described the crime scene as "savage and grisly."
Lathem and Warren had allegedly communicated in a webchat room "about carrying out their sexual fantasies of killing others and then themselves," the Cook County State's Attorney's Office said in a 2017 court document. Lathem allegedly paid for Warren to come to Chicago “so the two could kill someone, then each other,” Cook County prosecutors said. Lathem met Warren at Chicago's O'Hare airport and rented a room for him near his apartment, they said.
Cornell-Duranleau was lured to Lathem’s apartment on the night of his death and, according to prosecutors, opted to sleep there the night of his murder. Once he was sleeping, Lathem texted Warren telling him to come to his home, then gave Warren a cell phone and told him to record the killing, according to Cook County officials. Lathem then allegedly stabbed Cornell-Duranleau repeatedly in the neck and chest, at which point he woke up, began to scream and fought back.
When Lathem lost control of the situation, he then yelled to Warren to help him, the court documents allege.
"Warren walked into the bedroom and placed his hands over the victim’s mouth to stop him from screaming. The victim bit defendant Warren’s hand and flailed his arms in the struggle," the document said. "To silence the victim and stop him from moving, defendant Warren struck the victim in the head with a heavy metal lamp."
Both Lathem and Warren stabbed Cornell-Duranleau during the grisly attack, according to prosecutors; Warren used so much force on the victim that he broke the blade of one of the knives, records state.
According to the court document, Cornell-Duranleau’s final words were "Wyndham, what are you doing?"
After Cornell-Duranleau was killed, the two allegedly showered, cleaned the crime scene, and fled in a car rented by Lathem. Before he went on the run, the professor notified lobby staff in his building that there may have been a crime committed in his home, records show.
The two then fled the city, soon stopping in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin where Lathem made a $100 donation in Cornell-Duranleau’s name, according to prosecutors. Later, he sent a video message to his parents and to friends, admitting "that he killed the victim and that the murder was not an accident," and adding, "he is not the person people thought he was," according to court documents.
An anonymous cash donation of $5,610 was also made at the Howard Brown Health Center in the victim's name.
After an eight-day manhunt, Lathem and Warren turned themselves in to authorities at the Oakland Federal Building and the San Francisco Police Station, respectively.
Warren admitted to authorities how he’d helped Lathem murder Cornell-Duranleau, saying he had covered Cornell-Duranleau’s mouth and held him down. Warren allegedly also said there were meant to be other victims in their violent plot.
Lathem, a former associate professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, was a specialist in pathogenic bacteria. His employment at Northwestern was terminated on Aug. 4, 2017. In 2020, he attempted to persuade a judge to release him on $1 million bail to help battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sun-Times reported. That bid was unsuccessful.
Lathem’s trial is expected to last two weeks.
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