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by Bill Page
Kane County Chronicle
March 17, 2003
The facts are these: At 10 a.m., Aug. 13, 2001, Wendy and Tom Wright discovered the body of their 18-year-old son, Christopher, hanging from a tree house in the back yard of the family's rural St. Charles home.

After a day filled with grief over Chris' suicide, Wendy and Tom went to bed, trying for a little rest and respite from their pain. At 1:30 a.m., their fitful sleep was interrupted by two masked intruders standing in their bedroom, demanding they turn over a safe. A struggle ensued, shots rang out and the robbers fled, leaving Tom Wright lying on his bedroom floor, fighting for his life.

Nine days later two teenage boys, Joseph Hauschild, 17, and Ethan Warden, 15, were arrested and charged with the robbery of the Wrights' house, and for shooting Tom Wright. Warden eventually would agree to a deal with Kane County and plead guilty. In return, he received a sentence of 12 years and was required to testify against Hauschild.
Hauschild's trial began last Monday and ended in the early morning hours Saturday.

The trial is not about guilt; both Hauschild and Warden admitted to being in the Wright home, to robbing them and to firing weapons when they did it. That much is agreed to. What is at issue is whose gun fired the bullet dug from Tom Wright's chest. If the jury finds Hauschild held that pistol, he would become eligible for a life sentence; if not, he still would go to prison for a long time but someday would be eligible for parole. That slim hope for parole is all this trial would be about for Joe Hauschild, and he has in his corner a tenacious fighter.

Hauschild's attorney, Kathleen Colton, has one job to do: she must convince the jury there is reasonable doubt her client fired the gun in question — the one that would become to known as the "silver gun." And to take it out of Joe's hand, she must put it into Ethan's hand. For the entire trial all of her questions would be directed toward creating that doubt, and giving her client the chance he one day will be a free man.

For Colton there would be another issue, an issue of fairness. How can it be, she asks, that two people who are equally responsible for the same crimes would be punished so differently? She has a point; Warden will be out of prison when he's 26, but even under the best of circumstances Hauschild will serve many decades behind bars. The disparity doesn't seem fair, and will appear even less so when Warden testifies.

To look at Ethan Warden's yearbook pictures you'd be hard pressed to see a person who one day would be described in court as a "monster in the making." In his class photo, he has the same slightly gawky look most 15-year-old boys do, and in the basketball team picture he stands a bit awkwardly in the last row, the row where the tallest boys stand.

But the tall boy in the picture is the same one on the witness stand, shackled and in leg irons, who relates horrific acts in a matter-of-fact tone.

Yes, he says, he was more than willing to join his buddy, Joe, to pull off the crime because, "Joe said there was $10,000 in the safe. We was going to (use it to) go to New York. Joe was gonna be a rapper, and I was gonna be a DJ."

So the would-be rap stars broke into the Wright house via the basement, where they found a letter written by Chris Wright a short time before he killed himself. "It was a sad letter," Warden said, surprising the court with what seems to be a flash of compassion. That impression disappears when Warden is asked if he means the letter affected him. "No, no, I didn't mean it made me sad," he said. "It was just, you know, a letter with sad words."

It is Warden's version of events, too, that contain the most chilling language. Although he claims it was Hauschild who was the shooter of the silver gun, he readily admits he fired the revolver he carried. Was he aiming for Tom Wright? "That's who I was trying to shoot, but I couldn't get a clear shot off." Why did he shoot at an unarmed man? "Well, like Joe said, we brought guns for a reason." After the initial attack it was Warden who ran back up the stairs to "whack the b****," as he put it. He returned to the room and fired at Wendy Wright, who was cradling her wounded husband.

Ethan will be out of jail in something less than 10 years.
Joe Hauschild is no innocent caught up in a one-time error of judgment. By the time of the Wright robbery, Joe made quite a name for himself with local law enforcement. He was facing at least one charge of burglary, and was in and out of the court system for a number of years.

A slightly built kid, with droopy, hooded eyes and a lip that turns up into a permanent sneer, Joe was convinced he was one tough character. He saw his crimes as a way of establishing street credentials, essential for any aspiring rapper.

He was the one who planned the robbery, stole the car used to drive to the Wright house, stole the guns used to shoot Tom Wright, and even stole the flashlight they needed to see up the stairs to the Wrights' bedroom. It was Joe Hauschild who saw Chris Wright's death not as tragedy but as opportunity. It is hard not to think he deserves every day in prison he'll get.
The jury goes out at 11 a.m. Friday, and there is general agreement among courthouse observers their deliberations will be swift. In fact, it would take them 14 hours to return.

At 1:15 a.m. Saturday the jury files back into court. With the exception of the judge and lawyers, all who are left to hear the verdicts are a couple of tired reporters, two cops who worked the case, and Tom Wright and his son. Wright is dressed in a suit, and carries himself with the same dignity he has throughout the trial. He holds a pen and paper, ready to write down the jury's decisions.

There is no one there for Joe Hauschild. No relatives have come, and no one from his old crowd of suburban gangsters and wannabe rappers.

There is no sense of drama that usually accompanies these moments, no feeling the jury will return a verdict other than the ones they eventually do. If anything, there is an air of annoyance, irritation that it took them so long to decide the obvious.

And it is the obvious: guilty of criminal damage to property, guilty of armed robbery, guilty of two counts of attempted first-degree murder, guilty of aggravated battery with a firearm, guilty of home invasion and guilty of personally discharging a firearm during that invasion.

The jury makes no finding Joe Hauschild fired the shot that "caused grave personal injury to Thomas Wright," and so the wielder of the silver gun will remain a mystery. Kathleen Colton has won the only battle she fought; Joe will not face a life sentence.

He will be going away for a long time, however. For the crimes of which he has been convicted, he is looking at between 38 and 110 years. It is hard to see even the minimum as not being a life sentence.

Tom Wright must live with his injuries; an arm half blown away, a leg grievously injured, and a chest full of bullet fragments. Wendy Wright and the Wright children will live forever with the memories of 18 hours of horror that began with the loss of a son and brother, and ended with a vicious and brutal attack. Ethan Warden will be in prison until he is 26; Joe Hauschild far, far longer than that. And all because of a mythical safe.

For Warden and Hauschild, two losers slogging through life and going nowhere, the safe they sought held everything their miserable little lives lacked: money, escape and fame. It held the key to their rapper careers, and they would do anything to get it. But there never was a safe full of money. And there would be no fortune, no escape, and no gangsta rap.

What there was in the Wrights' home that night was a small metal box, the type many families use for birth certificates or legal papers. This is what Warden and Hauschild found after all their destruction: a handful of papers and $10 in change.