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08/10/87 the People of the State of v. Debra Lynn Gindorf

August 10, 1987





512 N.E.2d 770, 159 Ill. App. 3d 647, 111 Ill. Dec. 381 1987.IL.1147

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. Bernard F. Drew, Jr., Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE REINHARD delivered the opinion of the court. UNVERZAGT and WOODWARD, JJ., concur.


Defendant, Debra Lynn Gindorf, was charged by indictment with six counts of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, pars. 9 - 1(a)(1),(2)) for intentionally and knowingly causing her two children, Christina, age 23 months, and Jason, age 3 months, to ingest an overdose of sleeping pills. Following a bench trial, defendant was found guilty but mentally ill of two counts of murder and was sentenced to the mandatory term of natural life imprisonment required by section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c) of the Unified Code of Corrections (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)(1)(c)).

Defendant raises the following issues on appeal: (1) whether the evidence establishes that she was legally sane when she committed the instant offenses; (2) whether she should have been found guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder under the principle of necessity because she acted with the unreasonable belief that her conduct was justified; (3) whether the trial court's refusal to take judicial notice of two court files in the same circuit was reversible error; (4) whether the application of the mandatory natural life sentence to a guilty but mentally ill offender violates the eighth amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment; and (5) whether a finding of guilty but mentally ill under section 6-2 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 6-2) renders all sentencing of guilty but mentally ill persons discretionary under section 5-2-6(a) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 1005-2-6(a)), making the mandatory natural life statute for the murder of more than one person under section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)(1)(c)) inapplicable to the present case.

The following relevant information was presented at trial. On March 29, 1985, at approximately 6:30 p.m., defendant walked into the Zion police station and stated to Diane Schroeder, a telecommunicator with the Zion police department, that she wanted to turn herself in. Defendant appeared nervous and her hands were shaking. She did not smell of alcohol, was not speaking loudly, and appeared glassy-eyed and trying to control her behavior. Defendant was directed to Ray Nichols, a Zion police detective. She told Nichols her name and stated that she had killed her infant and small child at about 2 a.m. the prior morning. She gave the detective the names and birth dates of her children, the address of her apartment, and the key to her apartment. Although defendant was "wringing" her hands, Nichols did not perceive her to be acting out of the ordinary or to say anything he could not understand.

After waiving her constitutional rights, defendant stated that at about 2 a.m. she took three boxes of Unisom sleeping capsules purchased at a local Jewel store, crushed the tablets, and placed the substance in three piles. She then put a small amount in the baby's formula in a baby bottle, gave an unknown amount to her little girl in a small juice container, and took the rest herself in a drink of Southern Comfort, of which she already had five shots. The children became sick and began vomiting, and she laid them in bed afterwards. She then passed out and woke up at 7:30 a.m., at which time she realized the children were deceased. Defendant then turned on the gas stove, placed a towel over her head and inhaled the fumes, passing out again. She awoke at 2 p.m., and realizing she was still alive, cut her right wrist with a steak knife and then attempted to smother herself with a pillow. Being unsuccessful at these endeavors, she went to the police. Defendant also stated that she purchased one of the three boxes of Unisom on March 21, 1985, and crushed the 32 tablets at that time. She purchased the other two boxes the night before the incident. She indicated that she knew what she was doing and just wanted to be free and happy, and that she had been planning to kill herself and her two children for about a month.

Three Zion police officers went to defendant's apartment, and upon approaching the apartment smelled a strong odor of natural gas. The entered the apartment, where they discovered the children in the bed, and they detected no vital signs. The cause of death of the two children was later determined as acute overdoses of the drug doxylamine succiate, the active ingredient in Unisom sleeping pills.

Neighbors of defendant in the apartment building who were frequent companions of defendant and were mothers of small children indicated that prior to March 28, 1985, they saw defendant regularly, that they often ate with defendant and her children, that they had reciprocal baby-sitting arrangements with defendant, and that defendant kept her apartment very clean and took good care of her children, keeping them well fed and properly clothed. Defendant, however, was observed to be frequently depressed and after giving birth to Jason on January 3, 1985, became increasingly more depressed. Defendant no longer wanted to do anything with her neighbors and became withdrawn and isolated.

Defendant's marriage was dissolved in June 1984, although she lived with her ex-husband until December 7, 1984. Her ex-husband admitted coming home drunk and getting into verbal and physical altercations with defendant on occasion, stated he has hit defendant in the past, and acknowledged that the ground upon which their marriage was dissolved was physical cruelty. Although her ex-husband stated he could not recall, neighbors testified that he violently attacked defendant, who was eight months pregnant at the time, two weeks before Christmas 1984 while her daughter watched and cried.

Concerning defendant's behavior on March 28, 1985, one neighbor, who saw defendant hours before the incident and unknowingly drove defendant to the store to purchase the two boxes of Unisom capsules, stated that defendant seemed normal and was not depressed, although he admitted he did not know defendant well. Other neighbors, who also saw defendant in the evening prior to the incident and were apparently the last people to see her before she walked into the police station, observed that she seemed more depressed than usual, not as talkative, and was unusually quiet and looked tired. They also noted as unusual defendant telling her daughter to hug and kiss a neighbor good-bye because they were going home, a request not made by defendant before.

A number of letters and notes written by defendant were recovered from defendant, defendant's apartment, and defendant's ex-husband and introduced into evidence. These included letters to her ex-husband expressing feelings of sorrow for their failed marriage and her decision to do something which might upset him, although this action was not revealed, a self-written will, a letter to her parents apologizing for her actions, and letters to her children expressing her affection for them. In addition, a letter to a friend was also introduced reflecting defendant's mood, her detailed account of what occurred, and reasons why she committed the act.

Lenore Walker, Ed.D., a psychologist with an extensive background in the areas of domestic violence and battered woman syndrome, testified on behalf of defendant that she interviewed defendant on May 10, 1985, to obtain defendant's personal history. She also reviewed the police reports, the witnesses' statements, the various letters, will and notes written by defendant, hospital records, police records, records of prior assaults on defendant, a social and family history, psychological test data, and the results of a Dexamethasone Suppression Test. Based on all of this information, she asserted three diagnoses for defendant: (1) that defendant suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, specifically, battered woman's syndrome, as a result of the situational disorder of her abusive relationship with her ex-husband, (2) that defendant was afflicted with a major affective disorder, specifically, major psychotic depression, the recurrent type, and (3) that defendant has an underlying borderline personality disorder coming from incomplete personality development.

Walker explained that persons with the latter condition have a sense of self or ego that is so weak and fragile that they slip in and out of psychotic kinds of episodes, that major affective disorder is caused both by the outside stresses of such things as death or divorce and by biochemical factors. She noted that defendant was administered two blood tests (Dexamethasone Suppression Tests) to determine whether any physiological factor was a cause of her depression. The first test, administered in the summer or fall of 1985, indicated that depression-related biochemical imbalances were present in defendant's system, and, after defendant was given various anti-depression drugs, a second test, made in October 1985, was negative. Walker viewed both that defendant's mood was dramatically improved after the drug therapy and that the test results went from positive to negative as indicating that her depression at the time of the offense had a physiological component. In her opinion, defendant was suffering from more than one mental disease on March 29, 1985, and that defendant was not able to conform her conduct to the requirements of the law.

Sharon Strauss, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, interviewed defendant and reviewed the same materials that were considered by Walker. Strauss concluded that defendant had a mental disease on March 29, 1985, which she labeled as major depression with psychotic features accompanied by underlying borderline personality disorder. She explained that the combination of major depression and personality disorder can cause extreme psychosis, which, in defendant's case, caused episodic lapses from reality. Strauss joined in Walker's statement that persons afflicted with major depression can appear normal to lay people and stated her belief that defendant was not malingering or faking. Strauss opined that on March 29, defendant was experiencing a psychotic episode and was not able to conform her conduct to the requirements of the law.

In rebuttal, Dr. Ronald Baron, a psychiatrist, testified that he gathered data from defendant on October 30 and November 5, 1985, and reviewed defendant's letters, the police reports, and the reports of the other doctors and mental health professionals. Dr. Baron opined that defendant was suffering from a severe mental illness at the time of the offense, specifically, a major depression disorder, recurrent type, and found that defendant was afflicted by a mixed type personality disorder, with borderline antisocial and avoidant features. He attributed the onset of defendant's mental condition to her stormy marriage and its dissolution and agreed with Walker that the beatings inflicted upon her by her ex-husband had resulted in a post-traumatic stress disorder. Dr. Baron, however, testified that even though defendant suffered from severe mental illness on March 29, she was able to recognize right from wrong and had the ability to conform her conduct to the requirements of the law.

It was stipulated to that during interviews with a social worker at the Lake County jail on April 1, 3 and 5, 1985, defendant showed no signs of stress and was coherent and oriented, and that defendant stated that she had become extremely isolated and bogged down with housework and the children, that she wanted to commit suicide, but believed that if her children remained alive they would lead lives like her own, and that she believed her children were in heaven and wanted to join them. They also stipulated that the results of the first Dexamethasone Suppression Test administered to defendant were abnormal, suggesting a major depressive episode. It was also stipulated that on January 3, 1983, defendant went to the emergency room of Victor Memorial Hospital complaining that she was assaulted by her husband five days earlier and that she had contusions and abrasions on her head, arms and right knee and was 30 weeks pregnant, and that ...

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