For 19 years, Eugene Ornstead has collected over $840,000 in pension checks — all while serving time behind bars for the murder of his wife.
Ornstead, 76, is a veteran Chicago fire lieutenant who was convicted in 1994 for killing his second wife. Though he is not eligible for parole until he is 100, he has been collecting about $55,000 per year in pension funds and building a modest little nest egg for himself.
Ornstead applied for his pension only days after he beat his wife to death in their Illinois home. After killing her, he put her body in the trunk of his car and drove out to Racine County in Wisconsin. Shortly after, he called the police to claim they had been kidnapped.
Though it may feel immoral for taxpayers to be funding a convicted felon’s pension, it is unfortunately entirely legal.
"I would characterize it as immoral," Pension expert Bill Zettler told MyFoxChicago.com. "Why should the taxpayers be paying a pension to somebody who's in prison for life?" Zettler, however, also explained that Ornstead is legally entitled to his pension.
“Nobody feels good about giving a pension to a convicted felon, but we have to follow the (state) statutes like everyone else,” said Ken Kaczmarz, President of the Firemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund.
Ornstead has had his daughter from his first marriage, Kristyn McClearn, a Chicago police officer, cash in his checks on his behalf for the last 19 years.
McClearn, who sometimes uses her father’s money with his permission, believes he still deserves his pension for all his years of service as a firefighter.
"Is it right that he gets his pension? Yes, he deserves his pension. What he did has nothing to do with his being a fireman and he deserves his pension,” McClearn said.
Richard Trevino, the son of Ornstead’s victim, feels he deserves a cut of the money as well and attempted to sue Ornstead for damages, but was told that the pension is legally protected.
"For someone else, from what I understand, to be collecting that money and using it to live a better life than most people do, that's just wrong," Trevino said to MyFoxChicago.com. "And it came at the expense of my mother's life. In a way the passing of my mother was like a lottery ticket to some people.”