Murder charges 'appropriate' for teen burglary suspects whose friend was shot by homeowner: Illinois prosecutor

PHOTO: Michael Nerheim, Lake County Illinois States Attorney, speaks during an event at the Chinatown Walgreens to unveil new efforts to combat opioid abuse, February 09, 2016.PlayTom Williams/CQ-Roll Call,Inc./Getty Images
WATCH News headlines today: Sept. 17, 2019

Murder charges against the teenage burglary suspects whose friend was shot dead by a homeowner are "appropriate" because they were "solely responsible for placing" their friend in danger, an Illinois prosecutor says.

Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim on Thursday defended arresting the five teens, ages 16 to 18, for felony murder as adults, saying the charges were entirely lawful.

The charges stem from the fatal shooting of a 14-year-old boy outside a 75-year-old man's Lake County home early Tuesday.

Charging these offenders with felony murder as adults is based entirely on the law.

The homeowner told deputies he went outside after noticing a suspicious SUV in his driveway and several people on his property, police said. He believed they were attempting to break into and steal his car, police added.

Armed with a legally-owned revolver, the homeowner, whom police have not identified, told authorities he was standing on his porch, yelling at them to leave, when two people quickly approached him, police said.

The man said he saw that one teen holding something in his hand, so he shot at least three times out of fear for his and his wife's safety, fatally hitting the boy, police said.

The homeowner called 911 for an ambulance, but the surviving teens fled, police said. The teens allegedly led police on a car chase to Chicago, reaching 120 mph on Interstate 94, authorities said. Once the car was out of gas, they fled on foot and were eventually apprehended, police said.

The homeowner was not charged.

Nerheim said the suspects "were solely responsible for placing the now-deceased 14-year-old offender in danger." Had the teens "not made the decisions they did make early Tuesday morning, this 14-year-old would still be alive today," he added.

PHOTO: Michael Nerheim, Lake County Illinois States Attorney, speaks during an event at the Chinatown Walgreens to unveil new efforts to combat opioid abuse, February 09, 2016. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call,Inc./Getty Images
Michael Nerheim, Lake County Illinois State's Attorney, speaks during an event at the Chinatown Walgreens to unveil new efforts to combat opioid abuse, February 09, 2016.

Nerheim said he believes the "charges are appropriate based on all the facts of the case, the degree of responsibility exhibited by each of these offenders, and the Illinois statutes currently available."

"Charging these offenders with felony murder as adults is based entirely on the law," Nerheim said in a statement on Thursday. "Illinois law has long held felons accountable for any foreseeable deaths that occur during the commission or attempted commission of a 'forcible felony.' This includes the death of innocent bystanders in addition to the deaths of co-felons.

"The rationale of the legislature surrounding this legislation is simple: When criminal defendants commit forcible felonies (especially when the felon(s) are armed), the possibility of death or great harm increases dramatically," the statement continued.

A knife was found on the 75-year-old's property, police said.

As the case moves forward, Nerheim said he will "consider the facts, circumstances, any mitigating factors, and the ages of the offenders."

The five teenagers appeared in court for an initial hearing on Tuesday. They are scheduled to appear in court again on Sept. 5.

The Lake County Public Defender's Office is representing the five teenagers but declined to comment on the cases to ABC News on Friday.