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People v. Mifflin





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon. Robert J. Steigmann, Judge, presiding.


Following a bench trial, defendant Dale Mifflin was convicted of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(2)) and sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment. Defendant appeals from this judgment of the circuit court of Champaign County. We affirm.

Defendant raises three issues on appeal: (1) whether he was proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, (2) whether his trial counsel was incompetent, (3) whether the trial court abused its discretion by sentencing him to 25 years' imprisonment.

On July 26, 1982, at 6:25 p.m., defendant called for an ambulance saying that he had a baby who was not breathing. When the ambulance arrived the 14-month-old child was unconscious, gasping in a labored manner, his pupils fixed and dilated. The child did not respond to verbal or physical stimuli. Defendant told ambulance personnel that the child was normal during the day but had a convulsion prior to his call for the ambulance. En route to the hospital, the child commenced decerebrate posturing indicative of increased cranial pressure. His breathing became more labored and his respiratory and pulse rates dropped. The child developed respiratory arrest at the hospital and was revived. An operation was performed to remove blood clotting from the head and relieve intercranial pressure. After several days on life-support equipment, the child, Sean Mifflin, died. Defendant, the child's father, was indicted on the offenses of murder and involuntary manslaughter.

Dr. Bobowski, pathologist, performed an autopsy on Sean. He testified that the cause of death was cerebral death due to edema resulting from some trauma. The external examination of the child revealed "multiple bruises actually from the head to the toes." Internal examination revealed several additional injuries caused by blunt injuries or blows inflicted from a minimum of 24 hours to a week or longer before the child was admitted to the hospital.

A paramedic testified that she heard defendant tell a doctor at the hospital that he had been holding the child and had tightened his grip when Sean started to slip from his arm. When he looked down, the child was choking with his eyes rolled back into his head and defendant dropped the child.

Dr. Belber, neurosurgeon, operated on Sean on the night of July 26. Belber opined that the severe brain swelling was caused by a physical trauma delivered to the head. As there was no scalp laceration, area of swelling or softness, or visible skull fracture, he was unable to determine what portion of the head received the trauma. The injury, caused by a "severe blow or blows," was not consistent with the child's head being caught by an adult's arm. Belber estimated that the brain swelling would have taken two to three hours to develop and that the injury occurred between noon and 2 p.m. on July 26.

Dr. Baird testified he had examined Sean at 6:40 p.m. on July 26. At that time, the injury had developed and the pressure within the head was so high that the child's death was imminent. Baird also observed a series of bruises over the child's body: (1) a bruise lateral to the left eye between the eye and the ear, two to three days old; (2) a bruise on the right lower eyelid region on the cheek bone, three to four days old; (3) two to three separate bruises on the right forehead, two or three days old; (4) a bruise on the right cheek below the eye, three or four days old; (5) six bruises on the upper half of the back, from 3 to 14 days old; (6) a bruise on the back thigh at least two weeks old; (7) a bruise on the lower right hand portion of the abdomen, 5 to 14 days old; (8) four bruises on the back of the lateral left side of the chest, normally covered by the arm, from two to five days old; (9) two sets of parallel fingerprint bruises on the inner right arm, one set three to four days old and the other set one or two days old; (10) a bruise on the front of the right leg, one day old; and (11) older bruising over the entire lower back. Baird also noted burn scars on the boy's left hand; a large second degree burn on the front heel of the hand, one or more weeks old; and second or third degree burn scars on the back of the distal joints of the middle and small fingers, several days old. Baird opined that the bruises and injuries on a whole were not self-inflicted and that the overall pattern of bruising and burns were characteristic of child abuse. He commented: "Someone has been beating the living daylights out of this child for a period of two to three weeks."

Champaign police officer Kenneth Griffin spoke to defendant at the hospital on July 26. Griffin testified that defendant said he had unintentionally choked Sean with his arm when the child slipped from his hip that afternoon. Defendant also told Griffin that the night before he had thrown Sean across the room at his wife, a distance of about six feet.

Ronald Rasmus, investigator for the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), testified that he told defendant he believed something had happened to Sean on July 26 before he was brought to the hospital. Defendant told Griffin he "was hoping that wouldn't come out, but something did happen on Monday." Defendant told Rasmus that when his wife went to work around 12:30 p.m., he went home. He became upset while talking to his wife on the telephone. He hit Sean in the head with the back of his hand, picked him up, carried him into the bedroom, and threw him on the floor. He then returned to the living room and watched television. When he later took Sean to the kitchen to fix a bottle, the child slipped through his arm and defendant compressed Sean against his side until he finished preparing the bottle. When he laid the child down in the bedroom, Sean was having trouble breathing and defendant called the ambulance.

Dr. Jeckel, psychiatrist, testified that he met defendant and his wife the day after the child's hospitalization. At that time, both parents were overwhelmed by the sudden psychological trauma of the previous day. He opined that it would have been difficult for defendant to give a complete statement of the events in the circumstances. It was Jeckel's opinion that defendant did not intend to harm the child as seriously as he did.

Mrs. Mifflin, defendant's wife, offered various explanations for the bruises over the child's body but had no explanation for the burns. She said she bathed Sean the morning of July 26 but did not notice bruises under his arm or on his back.

Defendant testified and described tossing the child across the floor at his wife on July 25. He admitted slapping the boy near the top of his head on July 26, demonstrating the blow in court. He also admitted throwing the child at the crib from a distance of three to five feet, with the child striking the guard rail and falling to the floor. Defendant testified that Sean appeared to be fine when he later took the child to the kitchen to fix him a bottle. Defendant stated that when the child reached for something in the sink, he began to slip through defendant's arm and defendant tightened his grip. When he took the child to the bedroom, the child began having convulsions and he called the ambulance.

Defendant testified that the bruises on the child's body were not from being hit, but he offered no explanation for the burns. Defendant stated that he had not intended to cause his son great bodily harm or death and had never knowingly ...

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