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02/20/87 the People of the State of v. Barbara Brooks

February 20, 1987





505 N.E.2d 336, 115 Ill. 2d 510, 106 Ill. Dec. 30 1987.IL.201

Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Howard M. Miller, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.


Following a bench trial in the circuit court of Cook County, the defendant, Barbara Brooks, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to a term of five years' imprisonment. The appellate court reversed the conviction and granted the defendant a new trial (138 Ill. App. 3d 332), and we allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal (103 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)).

The defendant and her husband were indicted and tried jointly for the murder of their four-year-old son, Solomon. At the close of the State's evidence the trial Judge entered a finding of not guilty in favor of Mr. Brooks. The case then proceeded against Mrs. Brooks alone, and the trial Judge found her guilty of involuntary manslaughter, an included offense of murder. The State's evidence against the defendant consisted of the statements she made to the police, including a written confession, and of expert medical testimony regarding the cause of the child's death. The defendant admitted to police that on the evening of June 19, 1982, while at home in Chicago with her family, she struck the child and gave him a baby's bottle containing a mixture of salt, pepper, and water to punish him for taking a bottle from a younger child. After striking the victim with a small souvenir baseball bat, the defendant left him with her husband for further discipline; Mr. Brooks had been asleep on the second floor of the family's house. Following that, the defendant told the child to return to the basement, and she shoved him with her foot, causing him to fall down about eight steps. The child developed diarrhea later that night. The next morning the child was taken to Roseland Hospital, and later he was transferred to Wyler Children's Hospital, where he died on June 21. According to Dr. Robert Kirschner, deputy medical examiner for Cook County, the child died as a result of blunt trauma injuries to the head with salt-water ingestion. The defendant testified at trial, and she explained that she gave the child the salt water as punishment; she denied hitting the child as she had said in her statement to the police. Two physicians who testified in the defendant's behalf attributed the child's death solely to his ingestion of salt.

The appellate court considered only one of the issues raised on appeal by the defendant. With one Justice Dissenting, the court determined that the State failed to present the testimony of two material witnesses at the hearing on the defendant's motion to suppress her statements. The two missing witnesses were an assistant State's Attorney named Edwards and a youth officer named Abran. Abran was in the hospital at the time of the suppression hearing, and the court believed that his testimony could be excused. The appellate court found error, however, in the State's failure to have Edwards testify, and therefore the court reversed the defendant's conviction and remanded the cause for a new trial. It may be noted that in similar cases the appellate court, in remanding the cause for a new suppression hearing under the rule in People v. King (1975), 61 Ill. 2d 326, has instructed the trial court to conduct a new trial only if the suppression motion is allowed. See People v. Tucker-El (1984), 123 Ill. App. 3d 955, 959; People v. Parquette (1984), 123 Ill. App. 3d 233, 238; In re J.C. (1979), 69 Ill. App. 3d 289, 293.

All but two of the six law-enforcement officers who took part in or witnessed the interrogation testified at the suppression hearing, and they denied that the defendant was threatened or mistreated in any way. The defendant was questioned on some four separate occasions on June 22, 1982. She arrived at Area Two headquarters around noon that day with her husband and children. According to the State's evidence, Detectives Robert Dwyer and Raymond McNally interviewed the defendant around 12:30 or 1 o'clock that afternoon. After speaking with the pathologist, the defendant's husband, and several of the children, Dwyer conducted a second interview with the defendant around five o'clock that afternoon. At this time Dwyer advised the defendant of her Miranda rights. McNally and two youth officers, Abran and Holz, were present during this period of questioning. Following that interview, Dwyer offered the defendant food. The defendant was questioned a third time, around 7:30 that evening, by Assistant State's Attorney William Frost; Dwyer and another assistant State's Attorney, Edwards, were also present. Frost then summoned a court reporter, and around 9 o'clock that night the defendant gave a statement in the presence of Frost, Dwyer, and the court reporter.

The defendant testified to essentially the same chronology of events, though she believed that Dwyer and McNally talked to her on an additional occasion early in the afternoon. Also, the defendant thought that McNally and the youth officers were present at the second to the last interview, which occurred around 7:30. At the suppression hearing the defendant contended that her inculpatory statements were involuntary and resulted from threats made by the officers to take her other children from her; she did not allege any physical misconduct on the part of the officers. The defendant also testified that distress over the one child's illness and eventual death prevented her from eating or sleeping for the three days preceding the questioning. The defendant testified that, late in the afternoon on the day of her interrogation, Dwyer and McNally entered the interview room with two youth officers, whose names she did not know. According to the defendant, the shorter, stouter youth officer threatened to take her children from her if she did not admit the killing. The defendant said that she jumped up and begged that her children not be taken away. According to the defendant, the stout youth officer said that they were getting ready to take the children, and everyone left the room. The defendant testified that about 10 minutes later Dwyer returned, alone; he was smiling, and he explained that the other officers had been trying to frighten her. According to the defendant, Dwyer said that if she admitted hitting the victim, she could take the children and go home. Dwyer then left the room. The defendant also testified that Assistant State's Attorney Edwards came in the room about 6:30 or 6:40. He was alone, and after identifying himself he asked the defendant whether she had received her Miranda warnings, which he then gave to her. The defendant testified that she told Edwards about the threat to take her children from her but that she was not sure whether he heard her. According to the defendant, Dwyer and the youth officers then entered the room, and they questioned her again.

The material-witness rule originated as dictum in People v. Rogers (1922), 303 Ill. 578, 590. In People v. Armstrong (1972), 51 Ill. 2d 471, 475-76, it was explained that, under the rule, "[t]his court has consistently held that when the voluntary nature of a confession is brought into question by a motion to suppress, the State must produce all material witnesses connected with the taking of the statements or explain their absence." Thus, the rule requires the State to present the testimony of those who were present during the misconduct alleged. (People v. Wright (1962), 24 Ill. 2d 88, 93.) As we have said, two witnesses did not testify at the suppression hearing in this case: a youth officer, Abran, and an assistant State's Attorney, Edwards. The defendant argues that Abran was a material witness because he was present during the late afternoon interview when a youth officer threatened her with the loss of the children. Holz testified at the suppression hearing, however, that Abran had been involved in a traffic accident and was in a Chicago hospital at that time. The appellate court found that to be an adequate explanation for Abran's absence, and we agree. See People v. Wright (1962), 24 Ill. 2d 88.

To support her argument that Edwards was a material witness, the defendant refers to the evidence that Edwards was in her presence at other times that day. Thus, the defendant cites Officer Dwyer's testimony that Edwards looked in the door briefly during the second interrogation, to explain that his shift would end soon and therefore another assistant should be requested, and Frost's testimony that Edwards may have said that he had spoken to the defendant and taken a statement from her. To this it may be added that Edwards was present during the second to the last interview, which preceded the production of the defendant's signed confession. As further support for her argument that Edwards was a material witness, the defendant refers to her testimony describing her brief conversation with him around 6:30 p.m. on the day of her interrogation. At the suppression hearing the defendant testified as follows:

": Edwards came in by himself and he introduced himself. He said something like he was for the ...

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