The Brutal Price of Justice; A Judge Finds Her Husband and Mother Murdered. Was It a Random Crime, or White Supremacists out for Revenge?

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Byline: Dirk Johnson (With Andrew Murr, Hilary Shenfeld and Daniel I. Dorfman)

Joan Lefkow could have taken the easy way out. In 2003, the Chicago federal judge was presiding over a case involving white supremacist Matthew Hale, leader of the World Church of the Creator. A religious group in Oregon with the same name was challenging Hale's right to use it. During the trial, a shocking twist: police charged Hale with trying to have Judge Lefkow killed. She could have stepped down from the case. Instead, she stood firm, citing her duty to the justice system. "A party should not be allowed to intimidate a judge off a case," she said.

Police now are trying to determine if her bravery was repaid with monstrous cruelty. Judge Lefkow walked into her home last Monday to find her husband, Michael Lefkow, a 64-year-old lawyer, and her 89-year-old mother, Donna Humphrey, in a pool of blood. They had been shot dead at point-blank range. While law-enforcement authorities have not tied the killings to white supremacists, they are questioning racist sympathizers of Hale, 33, who has been held in a Chicago prison since last year on murder-solicitation charges. He is to be sentenced next month.

Judge Lefkow is staying at an undisclosed Chicago hotel with her four daughters, under heavy police guard. In telephone interviews with Chicago reporters, she said she believed the murders were tied to her rulings on the bench. At turns weeping and burning with rage, she expressed anger and feelings of guilt that her family members were targets. "If someone was angry at me, they should go after me," she told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Since the killings, Hale has been moved to a more-isolated cell in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago. He issued a statement on Thursday through his mother, Evelyn Hutcheson, denouncing the killings as "heinous" and saying it would be "idiotic" to think he would order violence against the judge on the brink of his sentencing. His father, Russell Hale, told NEWSWEEK that his son is "very upset" about the killings because they could mean a stiffer sentence for him. …