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People v. Brooks





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Howard M. Miller, Judge, presiding.


Following a bench trial, defendant Barbara Brooks was convicted of involuntary manslaughter (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 9-3(a)), and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. On appeal, defendant contends that her statement should have been suppressed because the State failed to produce two material witnesses; that the trial court erred in permitting the State to introduce evidence of collateral offenses; that the trial court deprived her of the assistance of counsel by sequestering her before cross-examination; and that the State failed to prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Facts pertinent to our disposition follow.

On June 22, 1982, defendant Barbara Brooks and her husband were charged with the murder of their four-year-old son, Solomon. According to the medical examiner, the child died of hypernatremic dehydration and multiple blunt trauma to the head; the attending physician and a pediatric neurologist attributed the death solely to hypernatremic dehydration. The State's theory was that defendant and her husband punished young Solomon by beating him and forcing him to drink a salt water solution. Defendant's statement was the only evidence which connected her to the apparent cause of death. Defendant moved to suppress her statement prior to trial.

At the suppression hearing, defendant testified that she and her husband, along with their seven children, went to the local police station at about noon on June 22, 1982. She said that she was still mourning her son's death: she had neither slept nor eaten since her son had fallen ill three days earlier. She described her mental state as "a total wreck," "out of it" and "devastated." When they arrived at the station, she and her husband were placed in separate interview rooms, and the children stayed in a hallway.

Defendant testified that after about an hour, Detectives Dwyer and McNally entered the room. Dwyer approached her, slammed his hand down on a telephone directory, propelled it across the room and accused her of murdering her son. She denied it, but they said she was lying and left. The detectives returned 20 minutes later, and Dwyer said that defendant's husband had told them about her beating young Solomon with a souvenir baseball bat. Dwyer also said that they were bringing down "papers" on child abuse.

Later, according to defendant, Detectives Dwyer and McNally came back with two youth officers, whose names she did not know. The "stout" youth officer told her that if she did not confess, they would take her kids away, and she would never see them again. Defendant denied that she killed her son, and begged them not to take her kids away. The stout youth officer said to his partner, "She's lying," and then, "We're getting ready to take them now." All of the officers left, then a few minutes later, Dwyer returned. Defendant testified that Dwyer seemed friendly and apologized for the "Starsky and Hutch" treatment. He explained to her that they figured she was lying, but if she admitted that she might have hit the boy, then she could take her children home. Defendant recalled that Dwyer first admonished her of her rights during this conversation.

A short while later, Assistant State's Attorney Edwards came in alone and introduced himself. Defendant testified that she said to Edwards, "They told me if I didn't say I may have hit my child with a bat, they were going to take them away." She stated that Edwards said, "What?" and then Dwyer and the youth officers entered the room. She said that she dropped the subject because she did not want trouble. Edwards read her rights to her, and she gave a statement.

A few minutes later, Edwards said that the shift was changing, introduced defendant to Assistant State's Attorney Frost, and left. Defendant answered Frost's questions, then repeated her answers in the presence of a court reporter. On cross-examination, she admitted that she signed the transcribed statement, but explained that she signed it in order to get her children back.

The State called four witnesses. Detective Robert Dwyer testified that he interviewed defendant, her husband and the children soon after they arrived at the station. He denied throwing a phone book and denied accusing defendant of murder. After speaking with the medical examiner, Dwyer phoned the felony review section of the State's Attorney's Office for assistance. Dwyer discussed the case with Edwards some time after 4 that afternoon, then Edwards had a conversation with the medical examiner. Edwards indicated to Dwyer that the investigation would be somewhat involved, and that the assistant assigned to the upcoming shift should take the case.

Dwyer interviewed defendant a second time between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. He read her rights to her, and she indicated that she understood. According to Dwyer, McNally and two youth officers were present throughout the interview. Dwyer stated that the youth officers did not threaten to take the children, and no one told her what to say. Edwards entered the room toward the end of the interview and told Dwyer that another assistant would take the case.

Detective Raymond McNally testified that he, Dwyer and defendant were present for the first interview. Dwyer did not strike any phone book, and he did not accuse defendant of murdering her son. McNally stated that the youth officers never threatened to take defendant's children away. According to McNally, Edwards spoke to defendant, but not alone.

Assistant State's Attorney William Frost testified that he began his felony review shift at 6:30 p.m. on June 22, 1982. Frost interviewed defendant for about 15 minutes with Edwards and Dwyer present. Afterwards, Frost asked defendant if she would make a statement in the presence of a court reporter. Defendant, Dwyer, Frost and the court reporter were present for the final statement. Frost stated that defendant was calm, that she never indicated she was tired or hungry, and that she never said she was told what to say. On cross-examination, Frost admitted that he did not ask if she had been told what to say, nor did he ask whether she was threatened or coerced. Frost said that he discussed an earlier statement with Edwards.

Youth Officer Charles Holz testified that on June 22, 1982, his partner was John Abran. Holz stated that he was about 20 pounds heavier than his partner, and that his partner had recently been involved in a traffic accident and was in the South Chicago Hospital. Holz said that he and his partner were present for an interview of the defendant, but they were in and out of the room. Holz denied saying that he would take defendant's children away; he said that Dwyer did all of the talking. On cross-examination, he admitted that he had conversed with defendant in order to fill out a form concerning the children. Holz recalled that Edwards entered the room while defendant was there, but he did not know who else was in the room, and he could not recall how long Edwards stayed there.

Defense counsel argued that the State failed to produce Assistant State's Attorney Edwards and Youth Officer Abran. Defense counsel argued further that defendant's statement was not voluntary in view of her weakened physical and emotional state and the threat to remove her children. The assistant State's Attorney responded that Edwards was not present when any of the alleged misconduct occurred, and that Abran's absence was excused. The prosecutor also argued that the State was not at fault for defendant's weakened condition, and no threat was ever made. ...

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