A father pleaded guilty Friday to killing his three children — ages 2, 3 and 5 — by drowning them in a bathtub in Round Lake Beach last year and will be sentenced to life in prison.
Jason E. Karels, 36, of Round Lake Beach, was initially charged in June 2022 with three counts of first-degree murder.
A grand jury later indicted him on a total of nine first-degree murder charges.
The multiple counts were for Karels’ “intent to kill,” “knowing the acts will cause death or great bodily harm,” and “creating a strong probability of death of great bodily harm,” according to the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office.
He initially pleaded not guilty to the charges. During a court hearing Friday, Karels pleaded guilty but mentally ill to three counts of first-degree murder.
Prior to entering into the plea agreement, prosecutors and victim specialists consulted extensively with the family, according to the state’s attorney’s office.
Several members of the family were present in court for the hearing.
“This case has devasted the Round Lake Beach community and beyond. We hope that today’s resolution provides some measure of closure, and we will continue to provide support to the family,” Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said after Karels’ guilty plea.
Then-Round Lake Beach Police Chief Gilbert Rivera said during a press conference in June 2022 that officers were called to Karels’ residence in the 200 block of East Camden Lane in Round Lake Beach around 1:40 p.m. on June 13, 2022, for a well-being check.
Debbie Karels went to the residence to pick up her children, who were with Jason Karels for the weekend.
Rivera said the mother went into the home and found her three children dead in a bedroom.
The children were identified as Gideon Karels, age 2; Cassidy Karels, age 3; and Bryant Karels, age 5.
Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney Jeffrey Facklam said during an initial court hearing that police found a note in the house that said, “If I can’t have them neither can you,” referring to the children.
Karels was still married to his wife but they were separated, police said.
After Karels’ arrest, he made statements admitting to killing his three children.
He later gave a detailed statement to investigators about how he drowned each child “one by one” in a bathtub, Facklam said.
The Lake County Coroner’s Office said autopsies on Gideon, Cassidy and Bryant confirmed they died from drowning.
The Round Lake Beach police issued an alert to area police departments across the Chicago area following the triple murder.
Illinois State Police spotted Karels’ red 2010 Nissan Maxima and attempted a traffic stop on him.
Karels refused to stop and led officers on a 17-minute high-speed pursuit where he crashed into a heavily wooded area on Interstate 80 near Water Street in Joliet.
Karels had to be extricated from the vehicle by firefighters.
Officers wearing bodycams at the scene of the crash captured Karels admitting to killing his three kids.
Rivera said that Karels had attempted suicide multiple times leading up to his arrest, including at the crime scene at his residence where investigators found a “significant amount” of blood that did not belong to his kids.
Karels was hospitalized and later transported to the Lake County Jail.
Lake County Judge Theodore Potkonjak initially ordered Karels held on a $10 million bond and then later ordered him held without bond.
Karels has not been sentenced yet but faces a mandatory sentence of natural life in the Illinois Department of Corrections without the possibility of parole.
“The Round Lake Beach Police Department would like to thank the numerous investigators from multiple jurisdictions who contributed countless hours to this investigation. We would also like to recognize Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart and his entire office who assisted throughout the investigation and delivered a just outcome in this case,” the Round Lake Beach Police Department said in a statement following Friday’s hearing.
“Our thoughts continue to be with the family and friends of the victims and the rest of our community affected by this senseless tragedy. While nothing can bring these wonderful children back, we hope this outcome will give the family and loved ones some closure,” the department said.
A pre-sentence investigation was ordered for Karels and a sentencing hearing is scheduled for February 16.