CROWN POINT | David Edward Maust walked into a Lake County courtroom Monday and sat with his back to a gallery full of relatives of the teen boys he admitted murdering.
The families of Michael Dennis, 13, James Raganyi, 16, and Nicholas James, 19, sobbed quietly as Judge Clarence Murray made sure Maust knew what he was doing by pleading guilty to three counts of murder and agreeing to be sentenced to three consecutive terms of life without parole.
Prosecutors agreed to withdraw the death penalty request.
Maust, 51, asked to be isolated from other prisoners for the rest of his life. A fitting ending, defense lawyers said, for a man who was abandoned by his mother and father and spent his childhood in a mental institution where he was sexually molested.
Jeffrey Maust said the sentence is no punishment for his older brother, who tried twice to kill him.
"There ain't no justice being served," said Jeffrey Maust in a phone call Monday afternoon. "He's used to being confined so this is not punishment for him. How many of us can say we have a free meal and a free bed? That brings him comfort. It doesn't bring them (the victims' families) comfort."
But Michael Dennis' family felt otherwise.
"I feel so much better now that it's finally done," said Holly Gilkison, Dennis' mother.
His cousin, Cynthia Cruz, 23, referred to the past two years as an "ongoing nightmare."
"I've been living with the problem of looking at a picture of someone I'll never see again," she said.
The judge asked Maust how he pleaded to the murder of James Raganyi.
"Yes," Maust replied.
He recovered and said, "guilty" as Murray listed each victim whose body was unearthed from a shallow, concrete grave in the basement of Maust's rented home at 4933 Ash Ave. in Hammond.
Dennis, Raganyi and James were all listed as missing by their families months before authorities arrested Maust on Dec. 10, 2003, and began digging in the basement.
Monday's court proceeding yielded little drama, save a 66-page report filed by Maust's defense team of Thomas Vanes, Marce Gonzalez and Adam Tavitas.
Titled "Defendant's Sentencing Memorandum," the document includes Maust's family history, reports from social workers assigned to his case at Chicago State Hospital, a 1999 letter from Maust to Illinois prison officials in which he asks to be kept behind bars, and a 2004 capital sentencing report by a psychologist.
In that report, Mark Cunningham, a clinical and forensic psychologist, stated: "In fact, one would be hard-pressed to design a developmental sequence more likely to produce a profoundly disturbed, relationship-ambivalent, and aggression-vulnerable individual than the childhood experienced by David Maust."
His mother, Eva Maust, was described by a social worker as "disturbed," "psychotic," "functioning marginally," "needy," and "narcissistic." She had a nervous breakdown after Jeffrey Maust was born and spent a month in a mental hospital in Pennsylvania.
His father, George Maust, was apparently raised in foster homes because his parents died before he was 12, the report states.
"Family members suggest he was raised in an environment of sexual abuse and incest," the report states about George Maust.
At his mother's request, David Maust was committed to Chicago State Hospital when he was 9 -- a mental hospital that had a reputation as a "snake pit," filled with children who were there more often than not because family members were mentally ill and couldn't, or wouldn't, take care of them.
"All suggest Eva Maust 'dumped' her son in a mental hospital," the report states.
In a report 20 years later, a mental health professional who evaluated David Maust as he awaited trial for the 1981 murder of Donald Jones, of Chicago, said: "He is where he is because the system locked him up when he was nine years old for no better reason than he was unwanted."
According to the report, staff members at Chicago State Hospital reported the following:
-- David Maust had no incidents of serious misbehavior during his years at the hospital, and the staff there did not observe the lying, stealing and out-of-control behavior his mother reported as the basis for committing her son. He is generally described in the reports as an appealing, sensitive and reliable child, but deeply disturbed by his parents' rejection and preoccupied with the threat of abandonment.
-- When his mother was asked to be specific about the trouble she claimed David Maust caused during his occasional home visits, she became evasive and stated that "she just doesn't want him at home."
-- David Maust stood at the window during visiting hours waiting for his mother, whose visits became increasingly infrequent over time. The staff noted: "It is pitiful to see the ways in which he is always trying to reassure himself, excusing his mother to staff and explaining, 'She is ill,' 'Her back is bothering her;' etc."