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Article updated: 2/5/2013 3:53 PM

Howard judge rules against against evidence of abusive childhood

By Barbara Vitello

A Cook County judge ruled Tuesday that defense attorneys for D'Andre Howard -- charged with the April 2009 stabbing deaths of three members of the Engelhardt family in their Hoffman Estates home -- may not introduce expert testimony related to Howard's childhood diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Prosecutors asked Judge Ellen Mandletort to exclude the witnesses on the grounds their opinions were speculative. Cook County Assistant Public Defender Deana Binstock argued that Howard's condition influenced his behavior and that jurors should have that information.

"I'm disappointed that I'm not going to be able to present the context of D'Andre's self-defense claim as part of his defense. I think it would have helped jurors understand who he is and how this happened," said Binstock, who said Howard suffered physical, sexual and emotional abuse as well as abandonment and neglect that "expanded, exacerbated and continued over his young adulthood."

Police charged Howard with first-degree murder in the April 17, 2009, stabbing deaths of Conant High School Senior Laura Engelhardt, 18; her father Alan Engelhardt, 57; and her maternal grandmother Marlene Gacek, 73.

Howard, 24, claims he stabbed Laura in self-defense after they engaged in horseplay with a knife.

Prosecutors say Howard stabbed the victims after arguing with oldest daughter Amanda Engelhardt, who is the mother of Howard's second child.

In granting the state's motion to bar the expert witnesses from testifying, Mandletort indicated she found the testimony inadmissible because it involved the experts speculating "on events that may or may not have affected (Howard)" on the night in question.

In announcing her ruling, Mandletort expressed her desire to set a trial date.

Binstock, who took over the case after Howard's original public defender retired in 2011, indicated that she and co-counsel Georgeen Carson are still investigating.

Binstock said she is anxious to try the case too, but she cannot proceed to trial before she is ready. "That would be a disservice to my client," she said. Howard next appears in court on March 11.

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