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People v. Johnson

September 07, 2000


Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 99JA40 Honorable James E. Souk, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Garman

In November 1999, after an adjudicatory hearing, the trial court found respondent father, Dale Johnson, had exposed the minors B.J., B.J., and J.J. to an injurious environment. 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 1998). Therefore, the court adjudicated the minors neglected and placed them in their mother's custody until after the dispositional hearing. In its December 1999 dispositional order, the court made the minors wards of the court, gave full legal and physical custody to the minors' mother and, at the discretion of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), granted respondent supervised visitation. Respondent appeals, arguing that (1) the trial court's finding of neglect and subsequent dispositional order were contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence and (2) the trial court erred by refusing to consider testimony from respondent's psychologist concerning J.J.'s credibility and respondent's character. We affirm.


Respondent married Ellen Golden (formerly Ellen Johnson) in October 1986. The couple had three children, B.J., B.J., and J.J. (born April 19, 1990; June 22, 1991; and July 21, 1993, respectively) before divorcing in May 1994. Ellen retained custody of the children with respondent getting visitation every other weekend and one day during the week.

In March 1999, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship of B.J., B.J., and J.J., alleging that respondent sexually molested J.J. and therefore neglected all three children by exposing them to an environment injurious to their welfare. 705 ILCS 405/2- 3(1)(b) (West 1998).

At the September 1999 hearing on the petition, Ellen Golden testified that, since he was around two years old, J.J. had exhibited unusual bathroom habits. Golden indicated that J.J. did not "use" the bathroom but would "soil" himself. Further, she would periodically catch J.J. crossing his legs and trying to "hold it." She testified that, at its worst, J.J. soiled himself three to four times per day. Golden said that two to three times a week J.J. inexplicably urinated in closets or on the floor of his bedroom. Golden talked with J.J. frequently about his bathroom habits, but J.J. always said that he did not know why he soiled himself and urinated on the floor.

Golden recalled an October 1998 conversation with J.J. (who was then five years old) during which J.J. told his mother that he was scared to go to the bathroom. He said that there were things in the bathroom that made him afraid. J.J. told her that respondent had touched his "private part." Golden stated that she gave J.J. a doll and asked him to point on the doll to where respondent had touched him. She said J.J. pointed to between the doll's legs. Golden testified that J.J. said the "touching" happened "a lot" when they stayed at respondent's house. Upon hearing this, Golden called J.J.'s school and asked John McKittrick, a counselor, to speak with J.J.

McKittrick testified that Golden called him in October 1998 and asked him to talk to J.J. about J.J.'s unusual bathroom habits, which usually occurred after he returned from visiting his father. McKittrick said Golden did not explicitly tell him that she suspected respondent of molesting J.J. McKittrick said J.J. never actually told him that respondent had touched him inappropriately; however, J.J. did indicate that his dad was doing something scary to him while he was using the bathroom. Using a doll, McKittrick asked J.J. to show him what was happening in the bathroom. J.J. pointed to an area between the doll's legs. McKittrick said J.J. was visibly emotional during the conversation and had "tears running down his face."

Judy O'Brien, a child protective investigator for DCFS, testified that she met with and interviewed J.J. at his mother's house on October 22, 1998. After some general discussion about the difference between "good touches" and "bad touches," O'Brien asked J.J. if anybody had ever touched his private parts. J.J. said that his father had touched his private parts. O'Brien explained to J.J. the importance of telling the truth about such matters. O'Brien said J.J. initially dropped his head and said that it was not true, but then immediately burst into tears and said that it was true. J.J. said it would happen when he visited his dad at his house.

O'Brien further testified that J.J., along with his two siblings, were interviewed at the Children's Advocacy Center (Center) on October 27, 1998. O'Brien said she, Mike Stroh from the State's Attorney's office, Detective Dan Fevor, and Center coordinator Mary Whitaker were present during the interview. O'Brien said that J.J. seemed very uncomfortable; to almost every question, J.J. responded "I don't know" or "I don't remember." Further, J.J. would hide his face in a pillow or lay on the floor in a fetal position. As a result, O'Brien stated that they temporarily ended J.J.'s interview and talked with his two siblings. Both siblings denied having been touched by anyone in a sexual or other inappropriate manner. When they resumed their conversation with J.J., he seemed slightly more relaxed and admitted that respondent had touched his "privates" more than once. J.J. also stated that he had seen respondent do the same thing to his siblings.

During the hearing, the court listened to the audio recording of this interview and reviewed the written transcripts. At the State's request, the court later admitted the transcript into evidence.

Sexual abuse therapist Jennifer J. Aranda testified that, in spring 1999, she counseled J.J. and his two siblings regarding respondent's alleged sexual abuse. Aranda explained that children who are sexually abused sometimes exhibit physical manifestations. Such manifestations can include enuresis (inability to control one's bladder function) and encopresis (inability to control one's bowel movements). Further, Aranda said that sexually abused children often exhibit emotional signs of abuse. The variety of characteristics therapists typically look for include acting extremely aggressive, depression, acting out sexually, and/or having low self-esteem. Aranda testified that J.J. was often withdrawn and appeared to have low self-esteem. Further, Aranda indicated that J.J.'s history included bouts of aggression.

J.J. testified in camera at the hearing. When asked whether respondent had ever done anything that made him sad, J.J. responded "yes." After being asked what respondent did that made him sad, J.J. pointed down toward his pants. Later on, J.J. admitted that respondent had touched his "private area" and nodded his head up and down in response to being asked whether respondent ever hurt him by touching him. Additionally, in response to questions from the court, J.J. indicated that when respondent touched his private area, respondent was not trying to clean him up but was cooking dinner. J.J. further said that it "felt bad" when respondent touched him and that it hurt. However, J.J. said that respondent only touched him inappropriately on one occasion.

Dr. Larry Sapetti testified that he examined J.J. in November 1998. Although Sapetti stated that he examined J.J. only once, other doctors in his practice had examined J.J. since his initial visit in January 1997. Sapetti further testified that, at that time, J.J. was having problems related to enuresis and encopresis. The doctor noted that J.J.'s history indicated that another physician had previously treated him for constipation. Additionally, Sapetti commented that sexually abused children sometimes exhibited, among other things, a regression in toilet training behavior. Sapetti said that encopresis and enuresis can also be caused by a number of physical illnesses including diabetes, hormone abnormalities, cystic fibrosis, Hirschsprung's diseases, and undetected infections. However, Sapetti said that tests performed on J.J. did not indicate a physical cause for his toilet training regression problems. Sapetti also noted that he performed a visual examination of J.J.'s genitals and anus and saw no evidence of skin tears or scarring. Sapetti further noted that ...

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