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06/09/89 the People of the State of v. Debbie Blommaert

June 9, 1989





541 N.E.2d 144, 184 Ill. App. 3d 1065, 133 Ill. Dec. 307 1989.IL.872

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. William Penn, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE HEIPLE delivered the opinion of the court. WOMBACHER, P.J., and SCOTT, J., concur.


The defendant, Debbie Blommaert, was charged with first degree murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(2)) following the death of her adopted baby, Amy, who was nearly 10 months old at the time of her death. When Amy was admitted to the hospital on October 12, 1987, she was suffering from hemorrhaging within her skull. She lapsed into a coma and died four days later. The defendant was convicted following a jury trial and was sentenced to a 20-year term of imprisonment. She appeals her conviction, and we affirm.

Much of the medical testimony presented at trial was conflicting, and the record in this case is voluminous. Accordingly, the summation of the relevant proceedings and evidence is of necessity somewhat lengthy.

Prior to trial, the court heard extensive arguments regarding the admissibility of certain evidence of alleged prior abuse Amy suffered. Counsel discussed numerous bruises and scars and how they might have been sustained, as well as a collarbone fracture which the baby suffered at the age of 16 weeks. The court ruled that the evidence would not be admissible unless the State was able to show that the defendant inflicted the injury.

Deputy Gary Kraemer of the Will County sheriff's office testified that he interviewed the defendant on October 14, 1987. The defendant told Kraemer that she and her husband adopted Amy on March 23, 1987, and that the baby was healthy at that time. She told him that the baby had recently been crabby and vomited several times. She stated to the witness that on October 12, at approximately 3 or 4 in the afternoon, she and the baby were in the kitchen about 10 feet from one another and the baby pulled herself up to a kitchen chair. Amy began chewing on a tie which secured the seat cushion to the chair. Next, the defendant told Kraemer, she heard the baby cry, looked over, and saw her lying on her back on the kitchen floor. Kraemer stated that the defendant told him she did not hear or see the baby fall. At this time, the defendant's husband was at work and the defendant's four-year-old son was outside playing. The defendant indicated to Kraemer that she took the baby into the family room, and Amy became quiet.

Kraemer further testified that the defendant told him her husband arrived home at 4:15 or 4:30. He checked the back of Amy's head at the defendant's request and after she explained that the baby had fallen earlier, but neither of them felt anything unusual. At approximately 7:30 that evening, Kraemer was told in the interview, the baby became limp and apparently lost consciousness as the defendant carried her downstairs after changing her diaper. After the defendant and her husband unsuccessfully attempted to revive Amy, they called their neighbor, who was a nurse. The neighbor continued resuscitative efforts until Amy was transported to the hospital.

Dr. Mitra Kalelkar, an assistant Cook County medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Amy, also testified. She stated that she noted the existence of several fresh bruises on Amy's face, left buttock, and back. In her opinion, the bruises occurred approximately four to five days before the baby died, and only two of them might have occurred as a result of medical treatment such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation .

Dr. Kalelkar further testified that during the autopsy, she discovered the baby had two hemorrhages in the subgaleal area, that is, in the inner scalp. The larger hemorrhage measured 2 1/2 inches in diameter and the smaller hemorrhage measured one inch in diameter, and they were located in the occipital region, which is in the back of the head, toward the neck area. The witness testified that blunt trauma caused each hemorrhage, but that they were separate injuries and resulted from separate blows.

Dr. Kalelkar testified that beneath the larger subgaleal hemorrhage, she then discovered a lineal vertical skull fracture measuring seven-tenths of an inch in the left occipital bone. She indicated that in her opinion, the fracture was caused by the same blow or blows that caused the larger hemorrhage. After the baby's skullcap was removed by an autopsy technician, Dr. Kalelkar observed a large, fresh subdural hemorrhage on the right side of the brain, toward the back. She also observed an older subdural hemorrhage at the base of the skull on the right and left sides of the brain. She explained that the subdural space lies between two of the membranes covering the surface of the brain. The doctor testified that the baby's injuries were consistent with the head being in motion and striking a stationary object, and further stated that the baby died as a result of cranial cerebral injuries which were sustained as a result of blunt trauma. During the witness' testimony, slides taken before and during the autopsy were shown, and the witness pointed out the injuries. Dr. Kalelkar testified that in her opinion, based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty, a nine-month-old baby sustaining a backwards fall to a tile floor would not sustain a skull fracture and subdural hematomas such as Amy did. Finally, Dr. Kalelkar stated that a baby sustaining subdural hematomas such as those observed would lapse into a coma in a matter of four or five hours.

On cross-examination, Dr. Kalelkar acknowledged that it was possible that the baby sustained the bruises in an accidental manner, but that it was unlikely. She also stated that she saw no evidence that Amy was grabbed or held with great force. Defense counsel established that the witness testified at an earlier proceeding that the bruises on Amy's body could have been anywhere from several hours to two or three days old.

David Gilles, a Will County deputy sheriff, testified that he was present when Dr. Kalelkar performed Amy's autopsy. He stated that when Amy's skull was exposed, the doctor pointed to a thin red line and indicated it was a fracture. After the technician removed the skullcap, Dr. Kalelkar held it up and manipulated the fracture back and forth.

Charlotte Clark, a registered nurse, testified that Amy's right eyelid was swollen and discolored when she was brought to ...

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