CHICAGO — More than 30 colleagues and friends of a former Northwestern University professor charged in the brutal stabbing death of a 26-year-old man wrote letters supporting him both as a friend and a scientist, whose groundbreaking research on pathogens that can cause bubonic and pneumonic plagues might ultimately save thousands of lives. 

“I feel his contributions will eventually lead to the eradication of these infections, which continue to kill several thousand people every year,” one colleague wrote about Wyndham Lathem in a letter on Northwestern stationary that Lathem’s attorney submitted to the court in hopes of persuading a judge to allow Lathem to post bond for his release from jail, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Lathem and Oxford University employee Andrew Warren are charged with first-degree murder in the July 27 slaying of Trenton James Cornell-Duranleau, a Michigan native who had been living in Chicago. Prosecutors allege that Lathem and Warren had been planning for months since they met online to kill someone and then kill each other as part of a sexual fantasy. They say that after Warren flew to Chicago, the pair attacked Cornell-Duranleau as he slept in Lathem’s Chicago high-rise apartment.

Friends, relatives and co-workers of criminal defendants often write letters to judges asking for leniency, but they are almost always written in anticipation of sentencing and are rarely sent to judges before trial. In this case, the judge read them before the defendants appeared before a hearing Sunday in which prosecutors detailed the killing. 

But the show of support illustrates Lathem’s standing as a brilliant researcher and the way his arrest rocked the scientific community across the country that is well aware of his work before he was fired after the slaying, particularly his research into a bacterial strain that can cause both bubonic and pneumonic plagues.

Another person in one of the 32 letters Lathem’s attorney filed with the court said that if the judge allowed Lathem to post bond then Lathem could live with the person. The newspaper did not provide the names of any of the authors of the letters.

The judge said the information in the letters had nothing to do with the case against Lathem.

“The court has read his professional and academic achievements,” Cook County Judge Adam D. Bourgeois Jr. said in court. “Some of the finest in the world, right? It has nothing to do with this, though.”

All of the letters were dated within days of the date the two men surrendered to police in Northern California after a nationwide manhunt, and before details of the killing were made public, the Sun-Times reported.

A University of Illinois at Chicago professor who worked with Lathem wrote that she was “horrified” by Cornell-Duranleau’s death, but remained supportive.

“Whatever happened on July 27 is but one day in Wyndham’s life, and cannot erase the person he was every other day,” she wrote. “I mourn for Trent and am horrified by the violent tragedy that ended his life. I don’t know what the future holds for Wyndham, but know he will not face it alone.”

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