An Illinois man accused of stabbing a Muslim boy to death and wounding his Palestinian-American mother pleaded not guilty Monday after being indicted by a grand jury.
Joseph Czuba, 71, is accused of stabbing 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and wounding her mother, Hanaan Shahin, on October 14. Authorities said the victims were targeted because of their Muslim faith and in response to the war between Israel and Hamas.
Shahin told police that Czuba, his landlord in Plainfield, Will County, was angry about the war and attacked them after he urged him to “pray for peace.”
Czuba appeared in court Monday wearing a red prison uniform, socks, and yellow rubber slippers.
His lawyer, George Lenard, entered a not-guilty plea after the judge read the eight charges. Czuba remained silent, facing the podium with his hands folded behind his back as he stood before the judge in the courthouse in Joliet, 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Chicago.
Shahin, 32, is recovering from multiple stab wounds. Hundreds of people attended his son’s funeral on October 16, where he was remembered as a restless boy who loved to play. He recently had a birthday.
The boy’s father and other relatives attended the hearing. They refused to talk to reporters.
The murder charge against Czuba describes the child’s death as the result of “extremely cruel or heinous behavior.” The attack on the family, which renewed anti-Islamic fears in Chicago’s large Palestinian community, was condemned by the White House.
Judge David Carlson ruled that Czuba will remain in custody pending a Jan. 8 court hearing.