Man accused of killing Harlem High School student in court Dec. 21

By Jim Hagerty

ROCKFORD — The man accused of killing a Machesney Park teen is due in court Dec. 21, nearly a year after he was shot by deputies.

Michael E. Mernack, 37, is accused of killing 16-year-old Harlem High School Sophomore Rebecca Finkenhofer last December.

Mernack pleaded not guilty in March to 52 counts of first-degree murder. Counts in the indictment handed down by the Winnebago County grand jury on April 5 superseded those charges. Mernack currently stands accused of 60 counts of murder and single counts of home invasion and aggravated battery with a firearm. Court records show that his attorney and proseucutors are in negotiations on the new charges.

The case was most recently in front of Judge Fernando Engelsma, but has been transfer to Chief Judge Joe McGraw because Engelsma is retiring Friday, Dec. 8.

Mernack is represented by Winnebago County Assistant Public Defender Margie O’Connor.

Prosecutors allege that on Dec. 28, an armed Mernack broke down the door of the apartment Finkenhofer shared with her mother and opened fire. Police say Finkenhofer initially fought Mernack off and managed to push him out of the apartment, where she was killed. While she was shot, an autopsy showed that Finkenhofer died from a stab wound. Her grandmother was shot in the face but survived.

Mernack was shot by Winnebago County Sheriff’s deputies at the scene, and spent more than a month in critical condition. He was transferred to jail Feb. 16.

Finkenhofer’s mother, Megan Cabay, dated Mernack briefly but had ended the relationship. Cabay was at work when the incident unfolded and said she was likely the intended target because of the breakup.

Mernack had recently been charged with assault for alleging pulling a knife on Rebecca’s father, and domestic battery for allegedly punching Cabay in the face. He was out on bond when Finkenhofer was killed, and there were four orders of protection against him, including one barring him from the apartment.

And while time is helping her heal, Cabay told The Times Wednesday she has mixed feelings about whether she is emotionally prepared to sit though a murder trial.

“I want it to be over,” Cabay said. “I want him to own up to what he did.”

Cabay has since moved out of the Rockford area. She says she’ll always remember her daughter for how she influenced others.

“Rebecca changed a lot of people’s lives,” she said. “She was always telling them about Jesus, how God changed her life and how she wants everyone to know how amazing God is.”

Mernack remains lodged in the Winnebago County Jail on a $4 million bond. The Dec. 21 status hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m., in Courtroom A of the Justice Center. R.

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