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Article updated: 9/27/2011 4:44 AM

Jury can see video in Hoffman Estates murder case

Defense tried to supress statements in Engelhardt murders

By Barbara Vitello

Jurors will see a video recording of D'Andre Howard recounting for police his version of what happened the night three members of a Hoffman Estates family were slain in their home.

A Cook County judge on Monday denied defense attorneys' motion to suppress statements made by Howard, charged with the April 17, 2009, slayings of 18-year-old Conant High School senior Laura Engelhardt, her father Alan Engelhardt, 57, and Alan's mother-in-law Marlene Gacek, 73.

Howard faces first-degree murder charges in the Engelhardt family deaths. He also faces a charge of attempted murder of Shelly Engelhardt, Laura's mother and Alan's wife, who was injured in the attacks but recovered.

Judge Ellen Mandeltort's ruling came after several hearings held over the summer during which prosecutors played a DVD of Howard's nearly three-hour interview with Hoffman Estates police detectives. During the rambling, frequently inaudible interview, Howard, 23, said he stabbed Laura Engelhardt in self-defense after they engaged in horseplay with a knife.

Howard pantomimed for detectives how he brandished a sword that belonged to the Engelhardt family, while showing off his "moves" to Laura Engelhardt. He also claimed to have been demonstrating tricks with a knife he retrieved from the kitchen.

The other victims were stabbed in subsequent struggles over the knife, he said.

"I know I didn't do anything wrong," Howard said on the video recording, repeatedly insisting he was not under arrest and frequently yelling out for Amanda Engelhardt, who was then his girlfriend, and for their daughter.

"You can't withhold my child. This is illegal," he said.

Prosecutors rejected Howard's self-defense claims, saying he murdered family members after he argued with Amanda. Amanda and the child were at the house the night of the murders but were not injured. Son Jeff Engelhardt was away at college at the time.

Cook County Assistant Public Defender Jim Mullenix argued that Howard was not properly advised of his Miranda rights at the scene and at the hospital where paramedics took him for treatment for a stab wound to his arm. As a result, his statements should not be admitted into evidence, Mullenix said.

"Clearly the defendant was asking for a lawyer. Clearly he was in custody," Mullenix said. "He was not free to leave."

Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Maria McCarthy, however, insisted Howard was not in custody at the scene or at the hospital, and so Miranda did not apply.

Moreover, she argued, Howard did not clearly ask for a lawyer, saying only, "I have a right to an attorney."

"Even a clear request for an attorney or a clear statement does not have to be honored since Miranda did not apply at the time," said McCarthy, who cited numerous appellate court decisions during her argument.

Announcing her ruling, Mandeltort offered a meticulous account of the events of April 17, 2009, from the early morning 911 call to police to the final moments of the interview with police some eight hours later.

Howard "understood his Miranda rights and knowingly and voluntarily waived his rights," said Mandeltort, referring to the recording where police read Howard his rights and he initialed each one.

Moreover, Howard's mistaken belief that he was not under arrest is not relevant, said Mandeltort, who suggested that Howard "confused being under arrest with being charged with a crime."

Howard next appears in court on Oct. 11.

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