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Sharon Rudy, Administrator With the Will Annexed of the Estate of Elizabeth Ehlert,Deceased v. the People of the State of Illinois

January 25, 2013

SHARON RUDY, ADMINISTRATOR WITH THE WILL ANNEXED OF THE ESTATE OF ELIZABETH EHLERT,DECEASED,
PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County 91 CR 37801 Honorable Dennis J. Porter, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hall

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

Presiding Justice Lampkin and Justice Reyes concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Following a jury trial, defendant Elizabeth Ehlert was convicted of first-degree murder of her newborn infant girl and sentenced to 58 years' imprisonment. Defendant's conviction was reversed on direct appeal. The appellate court determined that the trial court committed reversible error in admitting irrelevant and prejudicial evidence that defendant had two prior abortions. People v. Ehlert, 274 Ill. App. 3d 1026, 1034 (1995). Following a bench trial on remand, defendant was again convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment.

¶ 2 Defendant appealed her conviction and this time the conviction was overturned on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to show that the infant had been born alive. People v. Ehlert, 335 Ill. App. 3d 467, 474 (2002). The Illinois Supreme Court subsequently granted the State's petition for leave to appeal.

¶ 3 A divided Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's decision, but on grounds different than those relied upon by the appellate court. People v. Ehlert, 211 Ill. 2d 192 (2004). The supreme court determined that even assuming the infant had been born alive, the evidence, taken in a light most favorable to the State, was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt an essential element of murder, that the baby's death resulted from defendant's criminal agency.*fn1

Ehlert, 211 Ill. 2d at 209-10. The Court noted, however, that its ruling did not imply that defendant was innocent of the crime charged, but only that the State's "evidence of criminal agency resulting in death was simply insufficient." Id. at 215.

¶ 4 Defendant died of cancer on June 20, 2005. Her will was filed in Winnebago County where probate is currently pending. Several prospective executors of defendant's estate were either unable or unwilling to serve as executor. It was determined that the primary asset of the estate was a cause of action for wrongful incarceration.

The probate court of Winnebago County appointed Sharon Rudy as administrator of the estate with will annexed, in an effort to recover funds the county had expended for defendant's medical needs following her release from prison.

¶ 5 Sharon Rudy filed a petition in Cook County circuit court seeking to obtain a certificate of innocence in order for defendant's estate to pursue a claim for damages in the Court of Claims for defendant's alleged wrongful conviction and imprisonment pursuant to section 2-702 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-702 (West 2008)).

¶ 6 The trial court denied the petition, and thereafter, denied a motion to reconsider. Sharon Rudy now appeals on behalf of defendant's estate. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

¶ 7 ANALYSIS

ΒΆ 8 Section 2-702(b) of the Code provides that "[a]ny person convicted and subsequently imprisoned for one or more felonies by the State of Illinois which he or she did not commit may, under the conditions hereinafter provided, file a petition for certificate of innocence in the circuit court of the county in which the person was convicted. The petition shall request a certificate of innocence finding that the ...


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