Landlord pleads not guilty in Plainfield Township murder, hate crime case

Joseph Czuba stands with his lawyers for a hearing at the Will County Courthouse on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023 in Joliet. Joseph Czuba, 71, was arraigned on charges of first-degree murder of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and and attempting to kill his mother, Hanaan Shahin, 32, on Oct. 14 at a Plainfield Township residence.

A landlord from Plainfield Township pleaded not guilty to charges related to an incident in which he allegedly stabbed a 6-year-old child to death and tried to kill the boy’s mother on the basis of their Islamic faith.

On Monday, Joseph Czuba, 71, was arraigned on charges of first-degree murder of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and attempting to kill Hanaan Shahin, 32, on Oct. 14 at a Plainfield Township residence.

Will County Judge Dave Carlson ordered Czuba to remain locked up in jail and to have no contact with Shahin. Carlson, who handles the flow of the felony cases in the courthouse, also decided to assign the case to Judge Amy Bertani-Tomczak.

The next hearing in the case is slated for Jan. 8, which will include a pretrial conference and potentially readdress whether Czuba should continue to stay in jail.

Carlson told Czuba he has the right to appeal his detention.

Throughout Monday’s hearing, Czuba was calm and did not say much other than, “Morning, sir,” and “Yes, sir.” Czuba continued to wear a red jail uniform, which is assigned to detainees in the medical unit at the jail.

Joseph Czuba enters the courtroom for a hearing at the Will County Courthouse on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023 in Joliet. Joseph Czuba, 71, was arraigned on charges of first-degree murder of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and attempting to kill the boy's mother, Hanaan Shahin, 32, on Oct. 14 at a Plainfield Township residence.

Wadea’s father, Oday Al-Fayoume, was in court Monday with several other family members, but they declined to speak to the media. Shahin was not in court, said Will County Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Dan Jungles, who attended the hearing in person.

One family member who was with Oday Al-Fayoume decided to briefly speak to the media outside the courthouse, but he did not identify himself.

“This is our problem in this country, unfortunately. We are in a country that says, ‘We have all the freedom of speech and religion.’ These days, there is no freedom of speech or even religion. That’s what’s going on,” the man said.

He said if someone “speaks their mind,” they lose their job, life and family, and the same is true if they don’t speak their mind.

“That’s a double standard in this country right now. Hopefully someone is going to do something about it, especially our president,” the man said before walking away.

At Monday’s court hearing, Carlson asked both parties in the Czuba case for another hearing on whether Czuba should stay in jail in light of the indictment. Czuba is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated battery and a hate crime.

Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Fitzgerald said he opposed Czuba’s release from jail because the landlord is a threat to Shahin.

“We also believe he is a threat to the safety of the community,” Fitzgerald said.

Kylie Blatti, one of Czuba’s attorneys with the Will County Public Defender’s Office, said her client is 71 and has no criminal history.

“No history of violence. He is a veteran,” she said.

Joseph Czuba stands with his defense lawyers, George Lenard, left, and Kylie Blatti for a hearing at the Will County Courthouse on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023 in Joliet. Joseph Czuba, 71, was arraigned on charges of first-degree murder of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and attempting to kill the boy's mother, Hanaan Shahin, 32, on Oct. 14 at a Plainfield Township residence.

Czuba initially faced between 20 to 60 years in the first-degree murder of Wadea, but a Will County grand jury returned an indictment last week that indicated prosecutors will seek a natural life sentence for Czuba if a judge or a jury find him guilty of slaying the child.

The indictment alleged that Czuba committed the murder of Wadea with “exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty.”

Federal authorities are pursuing a hate crimes investigation into the incident as well.

Hanaan Shahin was released from the hospital Oct. 19 and will have a long road to recover physically, mentally and emotionally, Jungles said.

Shahin issued a statement through the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations after meeting with the group’s executive director a day earlier. The written statement called for prayers for peace and marked her first public comments since the Oct. 14 attack that left her with more than a dozen stab wounds.