Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 01JA8 Honorable Ronald C. Dozier, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann
In April 2002, the State filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of respondent, Lona Griffin, as to her son, J.R. (born July 1, 1999). Following a November 2002 hearing, the trial court found respondent unfit, and following a separate hearing that same day, the court found that it would be in J.R.'s best interest to terminate respondent's parental rights. (The court also terminated the parental rights of J.R.'s father, Frederick Robb, subject to the terms of a final and irrevocable consent to adoption by specified persons--namely, Robb's parents, Joyce and Larry Hyatt. However, he is not a party to this appeal.)
Respondent appeals, arguing that the trial court's order terminating her parental rights should be reversed because (1) the State's termination petition failed to state that she could "permanently" lose her parental rights, as is required under section 2-13(4) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-13(4) (West 2000)); and (2) the court's finding that it was in J.R.'s best interest to terminate her parental rights was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.
In January 2001, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship regarding J.R. and his younger brother, Joseph R. (born December 22, 2000), alleging that (1) they were abused minors in that a person responsible for or residing in the same household as J.R. and Joseph R. caused physical injury to Joseph, by other than accidental means, such that he was brain dead with bruises in the folds of his neck and on his scalp; and (2) information provided by respondent was not consistent with Joseph R.'s injuries (705 ILCS 405/2-3(2)(i) (West 2000)). Later in January 2001, the State filed an amended petition, alleging that J.R. and Joseph R. were neglected minors in that (1) they were residing in an environment injurious to their welfare when in the care of respondent and Robb, in that respondent and Robb had unresolved issues of domestic violence (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2000)); and (2) they were residing in an environment injurious to their welfare when in the care of Robb, in that Robb had unresolved issues of anger management (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2000)). In April 2001, the State filed a second amendment to its adjudication petition, alleging that the children were neglected due to Robb's unresolved issues of substance abuse (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2000)). At an April 2001 hearing, Robb admitted the allegation in the State's second-amended petition, and the court adjudicated J.R. and Joseph R. neglected minors.
Finally, in September 2001, the State filed a third- amended adjudication petition, alleging that (1) J.R. and Joseph R. were abused in that respondent had inflicted injuries, by other than accidental means, which caused Joseph's death (705 ILCS 405/2-3(2)(i) (West 2000)); and (2) respondent had been convicted of the first degree murder of Joseph R. (McLean County case No. 01-CF-90).
At a September 2001 adjudicatory hearing, respondent stipulated to the allegations contained in the State's third- amended petition, and the trial court accepted her stipulation and adjudicated J.R. and Joseph R. abused minors. The court then conducted a dispositional hearing and adjudicated J.R. a ward of the court and placed him in the guardianship of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
In April 2002, the State filed its petition to terminate respondent's parental rights, alleging that respondent was unfit under section 1(D)(q) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(q) (West 2000)), in that she had been criminally convicted of murdering a child.
At the November 2002 hearing on the State's termination petition, the trial court took judicial notice that (1) in case No. 01-CF-90, respondent was charged with the first degree murder of Joseph R.; (2) in June 2001, a jury convicted respondent of that crime; and (3) in September 2001, respondent was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The State presented no other evidence of respondent's unfitness. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court found respondent unfit based on the ground alleged in the State's petition.
At the best-interest hearing, DCFS caseworker Glenda Bassett testified that she was assigned to the case for a few weeks in January 2001, was reassigned to the case in April 2002, and had been the caseworker ever since. At the time of the hearing, J.R. had been living with his paternal grandparents, the Hyatts, for one year. J.R. was doing well in the Hyatts' home and appeared "very bonded" to them. Joyce was at home with J.R. during the day, J.R. had many toys to play with, and the Hyatts made sure he received his asthma medication. DCFS recommended that terminating respondent's parental rights would be in J.R.'s best interest. The Hyatts had expressed a desire to adopt J.R., and DCFS believed that they would meet the applicable standards regarding financial means and the ability to meet J.R.'s emotional needs. Bassett opined that the Hyatts should adopt J.R.
The trial court took judicial notice of all the proceedings in the case and admitted into evidence the November 12, 2002, dispositional report prepared by the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). The CASA report indicated that J.R. was doing well with the Hyatts. He was receiving appropriate medical care, and his asthma and sleep patterns were improving. He was in a safe, stable, and nurturing environment. CASA recommended termination of respondent's parental rights based on (1) her conviction for murdering Joseph R.; and (2) the fact that her long-term incarceration would make it impossible for her to play a meaningful role in J.R.'s life.
J.R.'s guardian ad litem also recommended termination of respondent's parental rights.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court found it in J.R.'s best interest to terminate respondent's parental rights.
A. The State's Termination Petition
Respondent first argues that the State's petition to terminate her parental rights was defective in that it did not state that she could "permanently" lose her parental rights, as is required under section 2-13(4) of the Act (705 ILCS 405/2-13(4) (West 2000)). The State responds that its failure to use the word "permanently" in its ...