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People v. Arndt





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ROBERT L. MASSEY, Judge, presiding.


Following a bench trial defendant, Carol Arndt, was convicted of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 9-1), and sentenced to a term of 20 years. On appeal defendant contends that (1) the State failed to sustain its burden of proof with regard to her defense of insanity, and (2) the trial court's extensive examination of several defense psychiatrists was unnecessary and prejudiced defendant.

The facts surrounding the incident in question are not in dispute. On August 8, 1978, defendant's husband arrived home and discovered defendant and their 6-year-old son (deceased) in the car which was parked in the closed garage. Defendant was in the front seat and deceased was in the back seat. Deceased had died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Assistant State's Attorney Michael Ward testified that on August 8, 1978, he went to a hospital where he received a suicide note written by defendant to her husband which police officers had obtained from defendant's residence. This note was introduced into evidence by stipulation. In the note, which was written the day before, defendant stated that she could not live up to the expectations of her husband or anyone else; that she had made an emotional cripple and frustrated person out of deceased; that her husband was a good man deserving of a better life; that she and deceased were "getting off from around your neck before we drag you down too"; and that her actions were being done before she and deceased brought disgrace to her husband.

After speaking to police and reading the note, Ward went to see defendant who was in the hospital. When he introduced himself to defendant, she responded that she was "really in trouble." Ward advised defendant of her Miranda rights, which she said she understood, and she proceeded to give an oral statement. Defendant then indicated that she would give Ward a written statement and her attending physician indicated that there was no reason why this could not be done. The statement was taken at 11 p.m. on August 8, 1978, transcribed and then signed by defendant. It was admitted into evidence.

In her statement defendant explained that she got up that morning, dressed, closed the windows in her home because of the warm temperature and turned on the air conditioner in order that the house would be cool when her husband came home. She then woke deceased and dressed him. Thereafter she took deceased and her cat into the garage about 9:20 a.m. She put her son in the car and turned on the car ignition in the closed garage. Deceased was in the back seat, but he then came to the front seat; the cat was also in the car. They remained seated in the car during this time. Deceased attempted to leave on one occasion about 30 minutes later, but she talked to him about his upcoming birthday party and asked him to stay; deceased complied. At this juncture the engine stopped, and defendant could not restart it. Defendant got out of the car and told deceased to get out, but he did not move. Defendant then collapsed on the garage floor. She lay there for some time before trying to get into the car. At this point the paramedics arrived.

In her signed statement defendant explained that the reason for her action was that she wanted to kill herself and her son because that type of action seemed to be "epidemic." She said that when she began her action she was intent on killing only herself, but she knew that her actions would also kill deceased.

Dr. James Cavanaugh, a psychiatrist, testified for defendant on direct examination that she had been his patient since her hospitalization on August 10, 1978. She was discharged from in-patient treatment on November 10, 1978. Initially, Dr. Cavanaugh saw defendant daily during this period of time. Gradually, he reduced this frequency to several times each week. He has also continued to see defendant on a regular outpatient basis since her discharge.

Dr. Cavanaugh explained the series of tests given to defendant while she was hospitalized and his examination of her prior psychiatric history. He concluded that defendant was suffering from a chronic manic-depressive illness which began in 1969 when she was briefly hospitalized for manic or euphoric behavior; this condition was classified as a mental illness. He explained that this illness is characterized by clinical mood changes of either continuous or intermittent frequency. During these periods an individual's mood would fluctuate between abnormal euphoria and extreme depression possibly with suicidal overtones. This illness disrupted daily living and interfered with judgment and concentration.

While all people experience periods of elation and depression, Dr. Cavanaugh explained that the mood changes of a manic-depressive will vary in depth from 2 to 20 times more than a normal individual. He also indicated that a person with such illness, who is in the depressed cycle, might experience changes in sleep patterns, eating habits and daily activity routines. Such condition might cause acute suicidal symptoms.

Dr. Cavanaugh was of the opinion that at the time of the incident in question defendant was in a mood cycle of acute depression which may have begun in June 1978 resulting in an increase of suicidal tendencies and culminating in her attempted suicide on August 8, 1978. Dr. Cavanaugh, when he first saw defendant two days after the attempted suicide, concluded that defendant was emerging from her depressive cycle to a manic behavior pattern characterized by hyperactivity and lack of appreciation for reality.

Dr. Cavanaugh further stated that a person in defendant's condition might demonstrate a significant impairment in judgment by inclusion of her child and cat into her depressive condition. And he was of the opinion that, when she attempted suicide, she was insane because she could not appreciate the criminality of her conduct or conform her actions to the requirements of law.

On cross-examination Dr. Cavanaugh testified that a manic-depressive condition is caused by a biochemical imbalance. *fn1 He also stated that an untreated manic-depressive might experience episodes of clinical psychosis at the end of each mood cycle which involve an inability to appreciate her behavior and, at times, to suffer hallucinations. He reiterated his diagnosis, which had been formed after he had read defendant's suicide note and statement given to the Assistant State's Attorney.

Dr. Cavanaugh was of the opinion that about 9 a.m. on August 8, 1978, defendant was acutely depressed, but to an untrained observer her condition might not be detected because defendant might not appear to be highly disorganized or engaged in erratic behavior. Specifically, in reference to defendant's seemingly lucid behavior in the hospital after her attempted suicide, Dr. Cavanaugh explained that the carbon monoxide poisoning and emergency treatment she received was possibly "equivalent of [a] psychological shock treatment" which caused her to break ...

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