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People v. Rennert





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. KENNETH L. WENDT, Judge, presiding.


Defendant, Ronald Rennert, was charged by indictment with the offenses of deviate sexual assault and armed robbery. After a bench trial, the court found defendant guilty of both charges and committed him to the Department of Corrections for a term of six to 18 years. On appeal, defendant contends that (1) the State failed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that defendant was sane at the time of the offense, and (2) the trial court committed reversible error when it used the "right-wrong" test in weighing the psychiatric evidence.

We affirm the convictions.

At trial, the complaining witness, Ms. Fox, testified that on September 19, 1973, she was visiting her son's grave at Rosehill Cemetery when defendant approached and asked how he could locate a grave. As Ms. Fox turned to point out the cemetery office, defendant put his hand over her mouth and a knife against her neck. He threatened to kill her if she screamed.

Defendant took Ms. Fox to the side of a mausoleum, where he demanded her wallet. Defendant took $52, but allowed her to keep one dollar for carfare home. He ordered Ms. Fox to remove her pants, and then to kneel down. Defendant forced his penis into her mouth. Defendant then stated, "If you scream or leave for five minutes, I will come back and kill you." He then ran off.

After a stipulation that defendant's age was 31, the State rested its case in chief.

The defense introduced the testimony of expert witnesses in order to establish an insanity defense. Dr. Jan Fawcett, a psychiatrist at Presbyterian-St. Luke's Hospital and chairman of the department of psychiatry at Rush Medical College was the first to testify. He stated that he had a research interest in the field of depressive suicide and violence, and chemotherapy. Dr. Fawcett had done work in the area of the psychological effects of hormones, and had consulted with an authority in that field, Dr. John Money, concerning the male hormone testosterone and its effects on violence, and the use of drugs in England and Germany to suppress this hormone.

Dr. Fawcett first saw defendant in December of 1973, at Cook County jail, and for two months thereafter in the locked psychiatric unit at Presbyterian-St. Luke's Hospital, where defendant was placed for observation. Defendant was given several psychological and physiological tests, which indicated no mental deficiency, and which showed blood testosterone levels slightly higher than normal. Normal levels of testoserone are in the range of 400 to 1000 nanograms per decaliter, whereas defendant had a range of 600 to 1100. The function of testosterone is to immediate sexual and aggressive drives in the body, but there is no clear evidence that the level of testosterone affects individual personalities.

Dr. Fawcett evaluated defendant as being afflicted by "a compulsive disorder that led to disordered sexual behavior and driven sexual behavior." This disorder was classified as a disease or defect known as impulsive deviate sexuality, the symptoms being a compulsive and exaggerated sexual drive, irritability, restlessness and a low frustration tolerance.

Dr. Fawcett was of the opinion that defendant was suffering from a mental disease at the time he attacked Ms. Fox, and as a result was unable to conform his behavior to the requirements of law. This opinion was based upon defendant's history of sexual deviation, impotency since adolescence, recurrent behavior in the face of punishment and the high probability of being caught, and his high irritability, short attention span, inability to tolerate frustration and the need for constant movement and exercise. Dr. Fawcett specifically concluded that defendant's conduct was not part of a larger pattern of sociopathic behavior.

Defendant began being treated in January 1974 with injections of progestrone, a female hormone which reduces male levels of testosterone. 400 milligrams of progesterone were injected every 10 days, with the result that testosterone levels were reduced to 7 to 100 nanograms per decaliter, which are generally considered female levels of testosterone. Despite this change in testosterone levels, Dr. Fawcett was of the opinion that defendant still had a mental disease. The use of progesterone is experimental and is not officially recognized in the United States, and only two or three other psychiatrists use the drug for similar treatment.

Dr. James L. Chapel, professor of psychiatry at the University of Missouri also testified for the defense. He had examined defendant for 75 minutes and had spoken with him for 45 minutes by telephone. After reviewing defendant's records and Dr. Fawcett's reports, he reached the opinion that defendant attacked Ms. Fox while suffering from a mental disease which rendered him unable to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.

Dr. Chapel diagnosed defendant's mental disease as hypersexuality, which defendant was born with, and that the condition still existed at the time of trial. This conclusion was based upon defendant's neurotic symptom of impotence, and since he was not able to complete the act of sexual intercourse, other outlets had to be found. Dr. Chapel's conclusion that defendant was driven to act in such a manner was supported by the fact that defendant had spent eight years in prison and had found it a frightening experience, yet committed a sexual attack within six months of his release. Dr. Chapel further stated that hypersexuality is not a disease that is recognized by a majority of psychiatrists.

The final expert called by the defense was Paul Walker, an assistant professor of psychology at Johns Hopkins University who had worked with Dr. John Money on the correlation of behavior and hormone levels. After interviewing defendant for an hour and reviewing the medical and police reports, Mr. Walker concluded that defendant suffered from sexual deviancy at the time of the offense, which rendered him unable to conform to the requirements of law, and this condition continued to the present time. Mr. Walker stated that sexual deviancy is recognized as a mental disease by the official list of diagnostic categories used by psychiatrists and ...

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