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The People of the State of Illinois v. Brenda Weeks

March 30, 2012


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 06 CR 12105 Honorable Angela Munari Petrone, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Palmer

JUSTICE PALMER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Presiding Justice R. Gordon and Justice Lampkin concurred in the judgment and opinion.


¶ 1 Following a bench trial, defendant Brenda Weeks was found guilty of the first degree murder of her nephew Joshua Cole and sentenced to 26 years in prison. On appeal, defendant contends that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she knew that it was practically certain her actions would cause the victim death or great bodily harm. We affirm.

¶ 2 At trial, Leon Adams testified on behalf of the State that he was engaged to defendant's daughter, Crystal Weeks, as of April 27, 2006. Crystal lived at defendant's house at 11935 South Yale Avenue in Chicago. The victim, a 14-year-old paraplegic, also lived with defendant because his mother, defendant's sister, had died.

¶ 3 On April 27, 2006, Adams arrived at defendant's home around 7:30 or 8:30 a.m. The victim was not there at that time. At the home, Adams found a bottle of urine and gave it to defendant, who seemed to be "a little upset about it." Around 3:30 p.m., the victim returned home from school, left his wheelchair on the first floor and crawled up the stairs to the second floor of the apartment. About 5 to 10 minutes later, defendant confronted the victim about the urine bottle and seemed "a little bit upset." Adams could not remember if the victim was complaining about chest pains that day, but he had heard the victim complain about chest pains more than once in the six months before April 2006.

¶ 4 Around 4:10 p.m., Adams went to the bathroom to shave and heard defendant whipping the victim with a belt. Adams heard the whipping sound 3 to 10 times. He could hear the victim crying but never saw defendant hit the victim. The whipping sounds went on for a couple of minutes, but the crying went on longer than that.

¶ 5 When Adams came out of the bathroom, he saw defendant in her room holding a white belt, Crystal in her room and the victim sobbing in the living room by the couch. Adams had heard defendant beating the victim once before, a couple of weeks before the incident. The victim then crawled up the stairs to empty out the urine bottle in the washroom and was not crying at the time.

¶ 6 Adams left the apartment between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Adams saw the victim sleeping on the living room floor before he left. Adams could tell the victim was sleeping because he was snoring.

¶ 7 Adams testified he returned to the apartment sometime after 8 p.m. The victim was lying in the same place he was before Adams left. Adams and Crystal went to check on the victim and called 911 after he failed to respond. The police instructed Adams to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), so Adams moved the victim from the living room to Crystal's room. Defendant and Adams performed CPR on the victim. Adams said defendant was "very upset" that the victim was not responding. The paramedics arrived and took the victim to the hospital.

¶ 8 The next day, Adams went to the police station and spoke to an unknown assistant State's Attorney. Adams told the State's Attorney that defendant often whipped the victim with the same white belt.

¶ 9 Guido Calcagno, a paramedic, testified that he responded to the emergency call from defendant's apartment at approximately 8:47 p.m. on April 27, 2006. He found the victim in or near a doorway to a bedroom where other paramedics were already providing advanced life support care, CPR and intubation. The victim had no pulse, so the paramedics transported him to the hospital.

¶ 10 Dr. Joseph Lawrence Cogan, a forensic pathologist, testified that he worked for the Cook County medical examiner's office as an assistant medical examiner. Cogan examined the victim's body and observed numerous injuries, including a scar on the victim's chest and abdomen, external deformities of the ribs, hyperpigmentation and excoriation over the skin of the right buttocks, lacerations of the upper and lower lip, abrasions of the nose and chin area and other numerous marks on the victim's body. Some of the injuries were recent and hemorrhaging, while some were old and had scarred. There were loop and parallel marks all over the victim's body, especially on his back. The marks ranged from recent to years old, with the most recent being less than 24 hours old. Cogan saw "too many injuries to count."

¶ 11 A variety of injuries on the victim's body were consistent with strangulation or suffocation. These included hemorrhaging deep in the victim's neck, which indicated that the neck had been compressed, most likely by suffocation or chokehold strangulation. There was also hemorrhaging at the front and base of the tongue, which was indicative of a suffocation injury. Cogan observed that the victim's blood was fluid and unclotted, which was evidence of asphyxiation. The asphyxiation would have killed the victim.

¶ 12 The victim's heart was "very large" and "very abnormal." It had a pacemaker and weighed over 700 grams, where a normal teenager's heart should weigh about 250 grams. The victim suffered from congestive heart failure and congenital heart disease, which could put a person at risk of sudden death. The scar on the victim's chest indicated he had had cardiac surgery. Cogan said that the victim being struck with a belt over days, weeks and months could have contributed to the weakening of his heart.

¶ 13 Cogan sent the heart to the Maurice Lab Congenital Heart and Conduction Systems Center in Palos Heights, where Dr. Saroja Bharati examined it. Bharati found that the pacemaker's lead wires were damaged and its batteries were dying. The pacemaker cut down some of its functions to preserve energy, since it was entering the end of its service life.

ΒΆ 14 Cogan concluded that the loop and parallel marks on the victim's body were consistent with being hit by a belt. The bruise on the victim's forehead resulted from blunt force trauma, and the skull hemorrhages were consistent with recently inflicted trauma. Cogan attributed the various injuries on the victim's head to "blows" that were inflicted with force greater than ...

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