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02/24/89 the People of the State of v. Laura Carlson

February 24, 1989





535 N.E.2d 79, 179 Ill. App. 3d 1050, 128 Ill. Dec. 865 1989.IL.242

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. Angelo F. Pistilli, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE HEIPLE delivered the opinion of the court. BARRY and STOUDER, JJ., concur.


The defendant, Laura Carlson, was charged in Will County with one count of murder for the death by asphyxiation of her four-month-old daughter, and one count of attempted murder for the attempted suffocation of her 1 1/2-year-old son. The defendant withdrew her pleas of not guilty and entered pleas of guilty but mentally ill. A negotiated sentence was agreed upon, and on December 12, 1986, the defendant was sentenced to concurrent prison terms of 20 years and 6 years. Thereafter, the defendant filed a timely motion to vacate her guilty pleas which was denied by the trial court after a full evidentiary hearing. On appeal the defendant contends that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion to vacate since she had a defense worthy of consideration and because she may have misapprehended the law concerning insanity. We affirm.

On the evening of July 7, 1986, the Cresthill City police were dispatched to the defendant's apartment. Upon initial questioning, the defendant told the police that an intruder had entered the third-floor apartment through the bedroom window and had harmed the children while she was in the shower. After noticing that there was no balcony underneath the third-story window, the police requestioned the defendant. This time, the defendant admitted that she killed her daughter, Amanda, and attempted to kill her son, Antonio.

The defendant told Investigator Timothy Simenson that because of the many problems that she had to face in her life, the defendant felt that her children would be better off dead. The defendant stated that she went into the bedroom, kissed each child, and then held a pillow over the head of each of her children until she thought that each child was dead. When she had finished, the defendant opened the bedroom window and pushed out the screen on the window. The defendant stated that the damage to the screen would indicate that someone had made a forced entry into the apartment. Shortly thereafter, the defendant realized that Antonio was not dead. The defendant told Investigator Simenson that she could not bring herself to suffocate the child again, so she went across the hall to the neighbor's apartment for help. When questioned why she had fabricated her initial story, the defendant said that she was afraid of going to jail.

Two psychiatrists were appointed to examine the defendant. Dr. Kruglik found her to be fit to stand trial and sane at the time of the alleged offenses. Dr. Guschwan found that while the defendant was fit to stand trial, if he were called to testify he would find her insane at the time of the alleged offenses.

During the hearing at which the defendant entered her pleas of guilty but mentally ill, the trial Judge thoroughly admonished the defendant pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 402 (107 Ill. 2d R. 402). The defendant acknowledged that she had fully discussed the matter of entering the guilty pleas with her attorney, Barbara Badger (Badger). The defendant also said that she was completely satisfied with her attorney's representation. The trial Judge, who knew of the defendant's hearing problem, specifically asked the defendant if she could hear him and if she had her hearing aid on. The defendant responded affirmatively to both questions. Further, the defendant stated, in response to the trial Judge's inquiry, that the medication she was taking did not affect her ability to understand the trial Judge's questions.

At the hearing on the defendant's motion to vacate, the defendant stated that she did not have her hearing aid on when she entered her pleas of guilty but mentally ill. Moreover, the defendant claimed that she did not recall the trial Judge asking her about the hearing aid or about the medication. The defendant contended that she could not hear and did not understand the majority of the questions that the trial Judge had asked her at the previous hearing. Most importantly, the defendant said that she did not, at the time she entered her pleas of guilty, understand that there was a possibility that she could be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The State presented the testimony of two witnesses at the defendant's motion to vacate. Ina Lennon (Lennon), an investigator with the public defender's office, testified that she was present when Badger met with the defendant at the Will County jail and explained the defense of insanity to her. Lennon stated that Badger discussed the reports of both psychiatrists and specifically read the section of the criminal code dealing with defense of insanity to the defendant. Lennon further stated that Badger broke the statutory language down into laymen's terms and that the defendant indicated that she understood.

Badger then testified that she was appointed to represent the defendant and that she met with the defendant several times in the Will County jail. Badger specifically recalled a conference with the defendant at the jail in early November at which Lennon was also present. Badger stated that at this meeting she discussed the potential defense of insanity to the defendant. She claims that she read the statutory provisions on insanity to the defendant, and then broke each sentence down into laymen's terms to make sure the defendant understood her. She also apprised the defendant of the two psychiatrists' reports and their respective findings. Badger further told the defendant that if they went to trial, the State would present evidence that would make it difficult for her to prevail on an insanity defense. In particular, Badger was concerned with the defendant's initial statements to the police in which she attempted to cover up her actions by claiming that an intruder had harmed her children. Badger advised the defendant that the jury, after hearing this evidence, could determine that the defendant had full knowledge of what had happened, thus negating the inability to distinguish right from wrong prong of the insanity defense.

Furthermore, Badger informed the defendant that if the defendant chose to present the defense of insanity, the State was prepared to have Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen Patton testify. Patton would testify that she had a conference with the defendant on an unrelated matter on the day of the incident. Patton would claim that she had no problem communicating with the defendant and that the defendant appeared lucid. Additionally, ...

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