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The People of the State of Illinois v. Christina Beltran

August 23, 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
CHRISTINA BELTRAN,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 07-CF-1882 Honorable George J. Bakalis, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Schostok

2011 IL App (2d) 090856

JUSTICE SCHOSTOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Zenoff and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Following a jury trial, the defendant, Christina Beltran, was convicted of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 2006)) for killing her five-year-old daughter, Evelyn. The defendant was sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment. On appeal, the defendant argues that (1) the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress certain statements; and (2) she was deprived of a fair trial due to certain improper prosecutorial comments. We affirm.

¶ 2 On July 14, 2007, the defendant was charged by criminal complaint with first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 2006)). The complaint alleged that the defendant killed the victim by repeatedly slamming her head on the ground.

¶ 3 On October 23, 2007, the defendant filed a motion to suppress statements that she gave to the police on July 7 and July 13, 2007. The motion alleged that on July 6, 2007, the defendant drove her daughter to the hospital. After she learned that her daughter had died, the defendant suffered an acute psychological breakdown. Hospital staff subdued the defendant by injecting her with Haldol and placing her in four-point leather restraints. While at the hospital on July 7, the police questioned her regarding the victim's death. The police then improperly elicited statements from her prior to informing her of her Miranda rights. The motion further alleged that police elicited statements from her at the Du Page County Children's Center on July 13 in violation of her Miranda rights.

¶ 4 On August 28 and 29, 2008, the trial court conducted a hearing on the defendant's motion. Dr. Guy Miller testified that on July 6, 2007, he was treating the defendant in the emergency room when she began "violently thrashing about and appeared to be under extreme duress." The defendant believed that she was pregnant and 15 years old. Dr. Miller noted that the defendant "appeared to be seeing things in the room and pointing to things in the room that were not there, and she appeared to be talking to herself." At one point, the defendant attempted to "strangle herself with a bed sheet," and Dr. Miller had to physically restrain her. Dr. Miller opined that the defendant had an acute psychotic breakdown. Dr. Miller placed her in four-point leather restraints and sedated her by giving her five milligrams of Haldol.

¶ 5 Dr. Miller described Haldol as an "anti-psychotic and sedative." He treated the defendant with Haldol at about 9 p.m. on July 6, 2007. The half-life of Haldol is 18 hours, meaning that, 18 hours after a person takes a dose of Haldol, half of that dose remains in that person's system. After the defendant was injected with Haldol, Dr. Miller observed that she was more calm and coherent. On July 7, 2007, the defendant was committed at Linden Oaks Hospital, the mental health treatment center for Edward Hospital.

¶ 6 On July 7, 2007, at 5:45 a.m., Robert Holguin and Investigator Easton, both investigators with the Du Page County State's Attorney's office, Sergeant Price of the Du Page County sheriff's office, and Detective Barr of the Woodridge police department arrived at Edward Hospital to serve a search warrant and interview the defendant. Prior to entering the defendant's room, Holguin talked with the "charge nurse" to see if the defendant was lucid and if it would be okay to talk with her. The nurse said it would be fine and gave the officers and investigators permission to enter the defendant's room.

¶ 7 Holguin spoke with the defendant during the July 7 interrogation, which was recorded on video and audio. The transcript from the recording reveals that Holguin told the defendant that they had a search warrant. Holguin then informed her, "you don't have to talk to us, you don't have to talk to us if you don't want to, okay." He then told her that her brother, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend's family were very worried about her. Holguin then asked the defendant who caused the injuries that led to the victim's death. The defendant said that she had hit the victim, and Holguin and the defendant discussed how the defendant struck the victim. The defendant said that she did not hit the victim hard, and Holguin told the defendant to "remember that we talked to Victor" (Jimenez, the defendant's live-in boyfriend and the father of her twin sons). Later during the interrogation, the defendant said that it was she, not Jimenez, who had caused the victim's injuries.

¶ 8 After the defendant asked Holguin if it was wrong to tell him what had occurred, Holguin replied that it was fine. Holguin told the defendant that she was not detained, but he wanted to know what transpired "because we're here for your protection." Holguin additionally stated that, because they were there to protect the defendant, he was going to read her rights to her. Holguin then read to the defendant her Miranda rights.

¶ 9 The defendant subsequently signed and initialed a Spanish Miranda waiver. During the reading of the waiver, when the defendant was told of her right to counsel, the defendant said, "But I don't have an attorney." Holguin responded that the defendant could "ask for one at a point," but "[f]or right now" he just wanted to "clarify what happened."

¶ 10 After executing the written waiver, the defendant asked, "So [unintelligible] I can't talk to you guys right now?" Holguin replied that the defendant did not have to speak with them, but that it was important to determine what happened. Holguin asked the defendant if she wished to continue speaking with him, and the defendant replied, "No." Holguin asked the defendant again if she wanted to speak with the officers, and the defendant replied, "I don't know." Holguin told the defendant that they had already spoken with her brother and Jimenez. Holguin said that there would be an autopsy and that the police would determine "what happened and why [the victim] died." Holguin asserted that, if they did not know the defendant's version, there would be "no explanation why you did what you did with [the victim]." Holguin stated, "We need to hear it from you." He reminded the defendant that she had "started real well talking to us" and that she had already "explained to us the things you did to [the victim]." When Holguin asked what the defendant thought, she said, "Nothing."

¶ 11 Holguin continued by telling the defendant that she had to "think about her children." He asked her if she had "gotten some good rest," to which she replied, "No." Holguin again asked the defendant if she wanted to continue speaking with them. The defendant replied, "You say to." Holguin responded, "[n]o," and the defendant said, "[y]ou say it's important." Holguin said that it was important for the defendant to talk and that he wanted her to agree to talk. He asked her again if she would talk, and the defendant replied, "yes you say it's important." Thereafter, the defendant spoke with Holguin.

¶ 12 On cross-examination, Holguin stated that he had no reason why he waited to read the defendant her Miranda rights. He later testified that he continued to question the defendant because he felt that she was not in custody.

¶ 13 As to the July 13 interview, Holguin testified that he was aware that the defendant was going to be released from Linden Oaks that day. He and Investigator Easton drove Jimenez, who had agreed to wear a recording device pursuant to a court-authorized overhear, to pick up the defendant from the mental hospital. The investigators drove Jimenez and the defendant from Linden Oaks to the Du Page County Children's Center. The defendant and Jimenez were left alone in an interview room, where they engaged in a conversation that was recorded. At some point, the defendant got up and began to open the door. Holguin then approached the defendant and told her that he needed to speak with her. Holguin told the defendant that he needed "a minute," and he left the defendant alone in the room for a couple of minutes before he and Easton returned. Holguin asked the defendant if she would agree to speak with him, and the defendant so agreed. Holguin's July 13 interview with the defendant was recorded on video and was transcribed into English.

¶ 14 The transcript reveals that, at the start of her interview with Holguin, she said, "Oh my babies. Oh, my little babies." Holguin asked defendant to sit down, and she replied that she did not want to sit. Holguin told the defendant that he needed her to sit down "because these rooms are recorded." The defendant agreed to sit, and Holguin asked if she recalled everything they had talked about. The defendant responded that she remembered "[s]ome of it." Holguin told the defendant that "we're in our office now" and that he was grateful that she agreed to speak with him.

¶ 15 Holguin told the defendant that the only way to "fix this is talking with the truth." Holguin told her that, although they had spoken with Jimenez and had been investigating the case all week, the nature of the victim's injuries was still unclear. At this point, Holguin told the defendant that he and Easton were "like police officers, normally for your protection, our protection, we read you rights." Holguin informed the defendant that "[i]t doesn't mean anything," and told her that the rights were as he read them to the defendant at the hospital. Holguin stated that he was going to read the defendant her rights, and afterwards "we'll talk" and the defendant could ask about what was happening. Holguin then read the defendant her rights, the defendant indicated that she understood her rights, and she signed a waiver of rights.

¶ 16 Immediately after signing the waiver of rights, the defendant asked Holguin if he could help her see her other children. Holguin told the defendant that the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) had her children because Jimenez knew of the victim's abuse and could not stop it. Holguin informed the defendant that DCFS "grabbed custody of the children" for "as long as we are doing the investigation." After telling the defendant that DCFS would determine if the children would be placed with Jimenez's parents, Holguin said that "they never want to break up a family like that." Holguin said that DCFS would not likely give the children immediately to Jimenez, "[b]ut talking with the truth everything can be fixed." Holguin again told the defendant that the interview was being recorded, and that her cooperation was "very important." Subsequently, the defendant made several inculpatory statements.

¶ 17 During cross-examination, Holguin acknowledged that he knew that the defendant had been treated at Linden Oaks for mental health issues. He testified that, when he told the defendant she could fix everything by speaking with him, he meant that his investigation could be fixed. He acknowledged that it "may have been a poor choice of words" when he told the defendant that her rights did not mean anything. He stated that he said that because he did not want the defendant to feel intimidated. During the interview, the defendant told him that she had only a second grade education.

¶ 18 Dr. Tiffany Masson testified as an expert psychologist for the defense. She testified that she had reviewed the video recordings of the interrogations and the defendant's medical records, and she had spoken with the defendant and her treating psychiatrists. Dr. Masson concluded that the defendant did not voluntarily waive her Miranda rights during either the July 7 or the July 13 interview.

¶ 19 Dr. Masson explained that the defendant experienced "psychotic-like symptoms" and was in "a child-like state" prior to being injected with Haldol. In Dr. Masson's opinion, Haldol can affect one's ability to voluntarily waive Miranda rights. Possible side effects from Haldol include decreased concentration and alertness, confusion, nausea, shaking, and an increased heart rate. Dr. Masson believed that the defendant remained under the influence of Haldol during the bedside interrogation in the early morning of July 7. The defendant's self-report of feeling drunk, dizzy, and confused during the July 7 interrogation was consistent with being under the influence of Haldol.

¶ 20 Dr. Masson also administered a nonverbal IQ test to the defendant. The test can properly be taken by people who do not speak English, such as the defendant. The defendant scored 79, a low score that is two standard deviations below the average score of 100. Dr. Masson was "extremely confident" that her measurements for the test were accurate. Upon questioning by the trial court, Dr. Masson reiterated her opinion that, although the defendant had a basic understanding of her Miranda rights, she was not fully aware of the consequences of waiving those rights.

¶ 21 Dr. Orest Wasyliw, a forensic psychologist, testified that he had done criminal evaluations for the past 15 years. Such evaluations included addressing sanity at the time of the offense, fitness to stand trial, and fitness to understand and waive Miranda rights. In court, he testifies approximately 50% of the time for the defense.

¶ 22 Dr. Wasyliw testified that he had reviewed the records of the defendant's statements, including watching the DVDs of the actual interrogations as well as reading the transcripts from those interrogations. He also reviewed the defendant's medical records. He also met with the defendant twice and performed some tests on her. He believed that the defendant was of average intelligence. He also testified that the defendant's test results suggested that she was exaggerating some of the symptoms of mental illness.

¶ 23 Dr. Wasyliw further testified that, from reviewing the DVDs of the defendant's statements, she did not appear to have any difficulty other than yawning and perhaps a little bit of sleepiness at the beginning of the first interview. He observed that she appeared to be attentive as to what was going on. She was alert. She was oriented. She knew who she was and what was going on around her. She showed good eye contact. He believed that she understood the questions being asked, because she answered those questions appropriately. Further, from his review of the DVDs, he found no evidence of hallucinations, delusions, or illogical thinking. He found no evidence of any side effects from the Haldol that the defendant had taken prior to being interviewed.

¶ 24 Dr. Wasyliw concluded, to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, that on both July 7 and July 13, the defendant understood her Miranda warnings, she appreciated their importance to her, and she was capable of knowingly and voluntarily waiving those rights.

ΒΆ 25 On October 28, 2008, the trial court entered a written decision denying the defendant's motion to suppress her statements. The trial court explained that on July 7 the defendant was not in custody at Edward Hospital and her statements were voluntary. The trial court noted that Dr. Masson believed that the defendant's statements were involuntary because she was under the influence of Haldol. The trial court ...


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