A man who murders his wife is not necessarily an unfit father, a sharply divided Illinois Supreme Court has ruled in a child custody case.

The court ruled 4-to-3 that a man convicted of murdering his wife in 1978 and sentenced to 60 years in prison was not necessarily "depraved" and unfit to be a father.

But Justice William G. Clark wrote for the dissenting justices that the ruling was like saying "cohabitation may justify losing custody of children, but the murder of one's wife, the mother of the child, will not."

Clark referred to a case in which a divorced Illinois woman was denied custody of her children because she lived with her boyfriend.

The new ruling came in a case in which the father, Lonnie Abdullah, also known as Yumba Lasumba, was denied custody of his only child, Hannibal, "by reason of depravity" because he had murdered the boy's mother.

The circuit court had held that Abdullah was an unfit father because of the murder conviction. That court approved the child's adoption through the state Children and Family Services Department.

The new ruling means Abdullah can seek to regain legal custody of his son, who was 3 years old when his mother was killed. Abdullah still is imprisoned for the murder.