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People v. Hill

June 17, 1998

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MICHAEL HILL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gordon

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Honorable Colleen McSweeney Moore, judge Presiding.

Defendant Michael Hill appeals his conviction of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 1994)) by the circuit court of Cook County following a bench trial in August 1995. He argues his conviction must be reversed and remanded for a new trial because he did not receive a fitness hearing despite the fact that he was taking psychotropic medication at the time of the trial. In addition, he argues the court's rejection of his insanity defense was against the manifest weight of the evidence, and his conviction should be reversed and a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity entered.

In April 1993, defendant lived with Marguerite Hill, his wife, and Tracy Hill, his adult daughter. On the evening of April 4, Tracy returned home from work at some time after midnight. When she walked to her parents' bedroom, she saw her father, fully clothed, sitting on the floor by the bed, cradling Marguerite's head in his lap. Marguerite was clad only in panties. Tracy immediately backed up and apologized, but received no response. She went to her room and went to sleep.

Defendant woke his daughter at approximately 4:30 a.m. on the morning of April 5, and told her to call 911, but would not tell her why. As the house phone could not make outgoing calls, Tracy got dressed and ran down the street to make the call. When Tracy went into her parents' bedroom after making the call, she saw her father sitting on the floor and her mother lying next to him with her head in his lap, covered by a blanket or sheet. When Tracy asked defendant what was wrong and tried to look at her mother, defendant leaned down over her so Tracy could not see her face. She identified a necktie found near the victim as one she had given her father. After the paramedics arrived, Tracy examined the windows and doors of the house, looking for signs of forced entry; she did not see any.

Tracy testified that defendant had received psychiatric treatment before April 5, 1993. In 1992 he had received in-patient treatment at Jackson Park Hospital after a suicide attempt. Later in 1992 he was admitted to the Veteran's Administration Hospital ("VA") for approximately a month, after which he received some out-patient treatment through the VA. She had not noticed any changes in defendant's behavior before either of the two admissions for treatment. She did not remember him being admitted for treatment on any other occasions. She did not state why he had been admitted.

When paramedics responded to the 911 call, they found defendant sitting on the floor of the bedroom with the victim lying beside him, her head cradled in his lap. Defendant did not respond to their questions why they had been called or what was wrong. When the paramedics examined the victim they discovered that she had been deceased long enough for rigor mortis to set in, which took approximately 6-8 hours.

The paramedics summoned the police. When the police arrived, around 5:30 a.m., defendant initially failed to respond to their questions. After a while, he stated that he did not remember what had happened. Several detectives arrived at the scene at approximately 6:00 a.m. Defendant told Detective Edmond Leracsz that he had been watching television the night before, and he had developed a headache, for which he took some aspirin. The aspirin did not help, and the victim offered to rub his temples. At this time the victim was fully clothed. The next thing defendant remembered was being awakened by the alarm clock at 4:30 a.m., when he went to wake his daughter. Defendant repeated this version of events when he spoke with some other detectives at the police station. Detective Leracsz inspected the windows and doors of the house, looking for signs of forced or attempted forced entry, but found no such evidence.

On April 6 defendant spoke with Assistant State's Attorney Peggy Chiampas at the police station. He repeated the same version of events to her until she asked him what he remembered next after watching television. At that point he stated that he wanted a lawyer, and Chiampas terminated the interview. She described him as being very polite and alert. He looked at her when he spoke, and when she asked questions he responded promptly and appropriately. He did not complain about how he felt.

Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Mitra Kalelkar conducted the post-mortem examination of decedent. She testified that in her opinion the decedent had been the victim of a homicide by strangulation. The parties stipulated that if called, Cecilia Doyle would have testified that tests performed on blood stains on the necktie found next to the victim revealed that the blood on the tie was consistent with the victim's blood.

The State rested, and the defense's motion for a directed verdict was denied. The defense proceeded to call its first witness, Dr. Henry Conroe. Dr. Conroe, a psychiatrist, first met the defendant in January 1994. He interviewed him two subsequent times as well, for a total of approximately 5 hours. He formed an opinion that in April 1993 defendant was suffering from a major depressive episode with mood incongruent and psychotic features. He did not only rely on his sessions with defendant in forming his opinion; he also considered an interview which he conducted with defendant's friend, Phillip Schwartz; police reports of the homicide; records from the VA and Jackson Park; psychological testing on defendant in May 1993 at the Department of Corrections; brief telephone contact with defendant's treating doctor, Dr. Earl; psychological testing by Dr. Marva Dawkins; and a report prepared by Dr. Henry from the Psychiatric Institute of Cook County.

Conroe testified that in addition to his depression, defendant had "persecutory ideation." While at the VA hospital he had psychoses centering around his wife, involving a conspiracy in the police department because a police officer supposedly had an affair with his wife. Conroe was aware that there actually had been problems with defendant's wife's infidelity, and admitted that defendant's belief that his wife had been having an affair with a Chicago Police Officer was not psychotic. Conroe testified that defendant told him that issues of his wife's fidelity no longer concerned him. He no longer believed the entire Chicago Police Department knew his wife was having an affair, as he once had.

Conroe testified that defendant was admitted to Jackson Park Hospital in April 1992, after taking an overdose of antidepressant medication. He was suicidal and had been for about a year since he had lost his job. He was not eating or sleeping well, felt despondent and could not find a job. He was admitted to the VA in May 1992, shortly after he signed himself out of Jackson Park. Conroe initially testified that Defendant's diagnosis at the VA was that he suffered from major depression with psychotic features. On cross-examination he admitted that the diagnosis was actually a single episode of major depression. Defendant was initially admitted to the VA for inpatient treatment, then switched to outpatient treatment before his discharge. He stopped attending outpatient sessions in November 1992.

Defendant had been taking doxepin (sinequan), an anti-depressant, and stelazine, an anti-psychotic, in late 1992 and early 1993. These medications had been prescribed for him during his treatment at the VA. Doxepin should have helped defendant maintain his energy level and mood, help him sleep and eat and concentrate. Stelazine should have helped him keep any paranoid thinking or persecutory ideation in check. Defendant told Conroe that he had ceased taking the medication 2-3 weeks before his wife's murder. Conroe believed that there would be at least some, or possibly a full return of symptoms within 2-4 weeks after ceasing taking the medications.

Conroe believed that at the time of the crime, defendant was suffering from major depression with mood incongruent psychotic features, and he was unable to appreciate the criminality of his behavior and unable to conform his conduct to the requirement of the law. Conroe testified that the defendant was still under treatment at the VA hospital at the time of trial, and from Conroe's review of the records to date from the VA, it appeared defendant was still receiving Zoloft (misspelled in the record as "solarlov"), an anti-depressant, at the time of trial. Conroe admitted that Dr. Henry's report indicated that the defendant had told him that he was taking his medication at the time of the crime. However, Conroe maintained that his opinion as to whether defendant was sane at the time of the crime would not change even if defendant had been taking his medication at the time. He noted that defendant was deteriorating despite being on doxepin, which indicated the dose was not sufficient or it was not the right medication. He admitted that the only sources of information for defendant's deterioration were defendant himself and Schwartz. However, Conroe maintained that whether defendant was on medication at the time of the crime meant nothing to him in terms of his opinion of defendant's sanity at the time.

Conroe admitted that defendant had been taken off stelazine on September 14, 1992, while still an inpatient at the VA. The records reflected that defendant had denied any paranoid or bizarre behaviors thereafter. The stelazine was never restored according to the records. There was no evidence in the records from the VA of any bizarre behavior or physical acting out after that date; there were no physical symptoms at least until October 22, 1992. However, Conroe noted that defendant was still taking anti-depressants during this time, and adequate treatment of his depression would lessen his psychotic features. Conversely, removal of the anti-depressant would accelerate an onslaught of psychotic features. Conroe noted that it was shortly after the stelazine was discontinued that defendant began missing appointments and not attending the VA clinic. This was also around the same time Schwartz described his behavior change.

Conroe testified that Phillip Schwartz told him that he and defendant had met when both were inpatients at the VA. Their relationship had continued after defendant's release from inpatient treatment. Defendant had helped Schwartz get a job at Goodwill around Christmas time of 1992, and Schwartz had become concerned about defendant becoming more depressed and not being his usual self in the way he related to people. He spoke with the decedent in late December 1992, and she agreed defendant was becoming depressed and needed to return to the VA. Conroe was not aware of defendant returning to the VA at that time, although he knew that defendant did continue his medication until mid-March 1993.

Conroe believed that Schwartz was not an inpatient at the time they spoke. He did not know what Schwartz's prior diagnosis was, and did not know if he was taking psychiatric medication when he spoke with him. He stated that Schwartz did not seem bizarre or profoundly depressed, and he was able to give a coherent account and answer questions relevantly.

Conroe estimated he had examined about 150 defendants and testified in about 50 trials. All but one of the examinations were at the request of the defense. He admitted co-authoring an article entitled "Sanity Defense--A Practical Guide" with a member of the ACLU. Although he maintained that major depression was a "major mental disorder" when he was asked if it was a psychosis, he admitted that there was no evidence of psychoses when defendant admitted himself to Jackson Park. When defendant signed himself out of Jackson Park, there were no criteria to certify for involuntary treatment. Conroe admitted that insanity is difficult to establish if the illness itself is not a psychosis.

Conroe stated that defendant had given him a full life history, with numerous details, organized in a coherent fashion. He mentioned events related to his growing up, his education, employment, and alcohol use or non-use, among other things. However, defendant had a gap in his memory surrounding the murder. Conroe admitted defendant had no history of memory gaps or amnesia, and he was aware of no organic basis for defendant's loss of memory. He also admitted that depression would not necessarily impact one's memory, and it was possible that defendant was lying about his loss of memory. Conroe countered, however, that people sometimes block out memories too emotionally intense for them to handle, and he had noticed that defendant tended to shy away from dealing with situations involving strong emotions.

Conroe also admitted that insanity is often manifested through bizarre behavior. He admitted that he had examined the police reports and found no indication therein of any bizarre or unusual behavior on defendant's part.

Conroe stated that he spoke with defendant's son briefly, but did not speak with defendant's daughter, Tracy. He admitted that she would have been able to tell him about the defendant's mental condition, but would not admit she would have had ...


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