Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Henry County, Illinois No. 95--CF--317 Honorable Jay M. Hanson Judge, Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Homer
JUSTICE HOMER delivered the opinion of the court:
The defendant, Tabitha Pollock, was convicted of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9--1 (West 1996)) and sentenced to 36 years in prison. On appeal, she contends: (1) the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she knew that her boyfriend was beating her daughter; (2) the State deprived her of a fair trial when, during closing arguments, it vouched for the credibility of one of its witnesses and misstated the law on accountability; (3) the trial court erred in giving nonpattern jury instructions on accountability; (4) the trial court erred in admitting evidence of the defendant's prior bad acts; and (5) the truth-in-sentencing law is unconstitutional. We modify the defendant's sentence to allow her to receive day-for-day good time credit and in all other respects affirm the judgment of the circuit court.
In the early morning hours of October 10, 1995, emergency medical personnel responded to a call from the home in which the defendant lived with her boyfriend, Scott English. Also residing in the home were her three children, English's parents, the girlfriend of English's brother and the girlfriend's child. When the emergency crew arrived at the home, they found the victim, the defendant's 3½-year-old daughter, lying on the floor of an upstairs bedroom. The defendant was attempting to perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. The crew transported the child and the defendant to the hospital.
At the hospital, medical personnel attempted for an hour to revive the victim. When their efforts proved fruitless, the treating physician informed the defendant that her daughter was dead. The treating physician testified at the defendant's trial that he had sutured a laceration on the victim's head a few days before her death. At that time, he did not suspect child abuse because injuries of that nature are not uncommon in small children. However, when the victim was brought in on the morning of her death, the doctor suspected foul play and instructed the attending nurse to document the victim's injuries.
The attending nurse testified that she noted 11 injuries, 10 of which could have indicated child abuse. The victim had bruises on her back, her left elbow, her left buttock, her left ribcage and her right hip.
The forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy on the victim determined the cause of death to be blunt force trauma and asphyxiation. The doctor observed over 100 bruises in various stages of healing on the victim's body, including bruises on her chest and abdomen which would have been inflicted in the hours before her death. The doctor also noted curved claw marks on the victim's chest that exactly matched the victim's left fingernails. He testified that these wounds are typically found when a victim has been strangled and, in the moments preceding death, has used her fingernails to claw at the object that is strangling her. The doctor found small ruptures of the blood vessels in the victim's face, which suggested that something had been held over the victim's nose and mouth.
When the doctor conducted her internal examination of the victim, she found 13 distinct hemorrhagic injuries to the victim's skull. Eight of these injuries were three to four days old. The internal examination also revealed more extensive bruising of the victim's chest, abdomen and head.
The defendant's boyfriend gave a statement to police in which he admitted striking the victim in the head shortly before she was found dead. He told the police that the victim had recently begun winding herself up in her blanket as she slept. On that night, the boyfriend found the victim asleep with her blanket wound around her. He struck her in the back of the head to make her stop winding herself in the blanket. When he checked on the victim a little while later, he noticed that she was not breathing and carried her into the room he shared with the defendant.
When she was questioned by police, the defendant denied ever striking the victim and denied knowing about any abuse of the victim. She did tell the police that she had noticed injuries to the children in the weeks preceding the victim's death. She noticed marks on her son's neck, and her son told her that her boyfriend had choked him. The boy also told her that he had been injured when playing with friends. Her boyfriend said he mistakenly grabbed the boy around the neck when the boy began to fall while in the bathtub. The defendant also told the police about a similar incident in the bathtub which resulted in injuries to the victim. According to the defendant, her boyfriend told her that the victim attempted to get into the bathtub and stepped on the youngest child. When the boyfriend pushed the victim off the youngest child, the victim slipped and fell and was bruised.
The defendant told police of other incidents when she found bruises on the victim's face and believed they were caused by falls from the bed. Once, her boyfriend told her that the victim had been injured when she "fell" down the stairs and into a chair at the bottom. Days before the victim's death, the defendant returned home to find that the victim had supposedly fallen off a stool while trying to reach the toothpaste on the bathroom counter. Her fall on that occasion resulted in stitches to her head.
In her statement, the defendant said that she and her boyfriend split the task of disciplining the children evenly. She knew that the victim believed that her boyfriend was "mean," and she knew that her boyfriend thought that the victim was a "momma's girl."
According to the defendant, her boyfriend had arrived home at 12:40 a.m. on the morning of the victim's death. The children were in bed. Her boyfriend checked on the children once and returned to tell the defendant that the victim had been wrapped up in her blankets but he had fixed them. Later, her boyfriend checked on the children again. Finally, around 5 a.m., her boyfriend ...