Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No 95--J--484. Honorable David M. Hall, Judge, Presiding.
Released for Publication October 24, 1997.
The Honorable Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the court. Doyle and Rathje, JJ., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas
The Honorable Justice THOMAS delivered the opinion of the court:
The State filed a second amended petition to terminate the rights of respondent, L.C., to her son, G.V. The petition alleged the following statutory grounds of unfitness: (1) failure to protect the child from conditions within his environment injurious to his welfare (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(g) (West 1994)); and (2) depravity (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(i) (West 1994)). Following a hearing, the court found that the allegations of unfitness had been proved by clear and convincing evidence. The court later found that terminating respondent's parental rights was in G.V.'s best interests. On appeal, respondent argues that the State did not prove her unfit by clear and convincing evidence and that the trial judge applied the wrong burden of proof at the best interests phase of the proceeding. We affirm.
The termination proceedings followed the death of G.V.'s half-brother, F.L. Respondent is the mother of G.V. and F.L. H.V. is G.V.'s father. F.L. died while living with H.V., G.V., and respondent. The cause of two-year-old F.L.'s death was blunt abdominal trauma resulting from child abuse. A jury convicted H.V. of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to 28 years in the Department of Corrections. Respondent pleaded guilty to aggravated battery of a child and was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment.
On March 9, 1993, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship on behalf of G.V. The petition alleged that G.V. was neglected, in that his environment was injurious to his welfare (705 ILCS 405/2--3(1)(b) (West 1992)) (count I), and that he was abused (705 ILCS 405/2--3(2)(ii) (West 1992)) (count II). Respondent stipulated to count I. The court found G.V. neglected and made him a ward of the court. The court appointed the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) as his guardian. On February 16, 1995, the court discontinued visitation between respondent and G.V. until further order. The State filed a petition for termination of parental rights and, on December 15, 1995, filed the second amended petition for termination of parental rights.
At the hearing on the State's petition, the State presented the testimony of Sergeant Ralph Henriquez of the Waukegan police department, who testified about the statement he took from respondent on the day F.L. died. In the statement, respondent discussed her living situation during F.L.'s life. Respondent left F.L's father, J.L., because he was abusive to her. She then met and moved in with H.V. Respondent became pregnant with G.V. Respondent believed that H.V. was physically abusing F.L., but claimed she never actually saw H.V. strike F.L. However, another woman with whom they were living told respondent that she had seen H.V. hitting F.L.
Respondent told Henriquez that H.V. abused her. He was jealous because she had previously lived with another man. H.V. sometimes pulled her hair, punched her, knocked her down, and kicked her. He kicked her in the stomach when she was pregnant with G.V. The beatings occurred at least once a week. H.V. did not treat F.L. well because F.L. was not his child. H.V. also told respondent that he did not want F.L.
They later moved into another apartment, at 842 Lincoln in Waukegan. Respondent, H.V., F.L., and G.V. lived there. H.V. continued to beat respondent and did so at least six times after they moved into the new apartment. When respondent would go out, she would often come home to find bruises on F.L. H.V. would tell her that F.L. had gotten them either by playing or falling down. Respondent believed H.V. was hitting F.L. and when she would confront him with her suspicions he would smirk. The day before F.L.'s death, respondent saw a bruise on F.L.'s stomach, and F.L. told her that H.V. did it. At least two months before F.L.'s death, respondent suspected that H.V. was hurting him. Respondent told H.V. that she did not like him treating her child that way, and H.V. told her that F.L. needed to learn.
On the morning before F.L.'s death, respondent went to the store, leaving F.L. and G.V. with H.V. When she returned, she noticed that F.L. was bleeding from the mouth. F.L. told her that H.V. hit him. Respondent asked H.V. about it, and H.V. said he had been playing with F.L. on the bed and that F.L. had hit himself with a shoe that respondent left on the bed.
Later in the day, F.L. vomited on himself. Respondent bathed him and noticed bruising on his body. F.L. told her that H.V. did it. F.L. got weaker as the day progressed and he did not want to eat. Respondent forced him to eat some porridge, but he threw it up.
The following day, F.L. was still sick. Respondent wanted to take F.L. to the hospital, but H.V. told her they could not do that because there would be an investigation. Respondent continued trying to make F.L. eat, but he kept throwing up. She tried giving him Alka Seltzer to force him to drink and eat, but F.L. kept vomiting and complaining of pain. She heard F.L. cry out that night, and when she went in to look at him, he appeared weaker. She asked "who did this to you," and he pointed at H.V. The child was then taken to the hospital by ambulance.
F.L. died at the hospital. Respondent called H.V. to tell him, and he hung up on her. She called him again, and he advised her to say that F.L. had gotten hurt while playing. Respondent told Henriquez that H.V. had caused the injuries. She said that every time she left F.L. with H.V. she came home to find bruises on him. In the two months before F.L.'s death, there were two other ...