Friends, family members and a young man she cared for when he was a baby praised Bonnie Liltz as a loving mother on the same day the Schaumburg woman pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of her 28-year-old disabled daughter.
Nine witnesses Tuesday described Liltz's devotion to her daughter Courtney and asked for leniency for the 56-year-old woman, who gave her daughter a fatal overdose of prescription drugs and took some herself out of what her attorney says was desperation. Suffering serious health problems, Liltz feared she soon might not be able to care for Courtney, attorney Thomas Glasgow said.
Liltz was initially charged with first-degree murder, which carries a minimum 20-year sentence if convicted. The amended charge carries a sentence of probation or up to 14 years in prison.
An emotional Liltz dabbed at her eyes and nose during the nearly three-hour hearing before a crowded courtroom that included two dozen supporters. The hearing continues at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Kristen Mann described hiring Liltz to care for her infant son Tyler 20 years ago. Watching Liltz with Courtney, "I knew I found the perfect person to care for my son," said Mann, who referred to the "special bond" between Courtney and Liltz.
"She and Courtney were my first friends on this planet," Tyler Mann, 21, testified. "Bonnie treated me with nothing but kindness. ... She was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met."
"She loved her daughter on a level few could understand, and Courtney loved her just as much," he said.
Mother and son described a 2014 lunch with Liltz and Courtney during which Liltz looked weak. They described Courtney's agitation when her mother excused herself to use the restroom, her attempts to rise from her wheelchair and follow Liltz, and Courtney's delight when Liltz returned a few minutes later.
Liltz, a single parent, adopted her daughter when Courtney was 5 years old, after her birth mother placed her for adoption and her original adoptive parents surrendered her, according to court records. Courtney had cerebral palsy, could not walk, spoke only the word "mama" and required 24-hour care. Witnesses described her as a pretty young woman with a ready smile and a fondness for "Sesame Street."
Gloria Cheever, a friend of 18 years, described Liltz as a gentle and patient person who "devoted her life to caring for her daughter."
Cheever said Courtney received excellent care from Liltz, who fed, bathed and clothed her while struggling with her own health issues, which began in 1979 when she was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer at 19. The resulting hysterectomy left her unable to have children, which was a dream Bonnie Liltz had from the time she was a little girl, said her sister, Susan Liltz.
Complications from post-surgery radiation therapy left her with persistent medical issues, according to testimony. Diagnosed with cancer again in 2012, Liltz placed Courtney in a state facility while underdoing inpatient treatment.
After her discharge, Liltz picked up her daughter from the facility, said her mother, Gladys Liltz, 88. The usually happy Courtney was dirty and upset, said Gladys Liltz. She pounded her hands together and wouldn't look at her mother, Gladys Liltz said.
"Bonnie has not had an easy adult life. She has had many disappointments and yet she continued to provide the best life she could for her and her daughter," Gladys said.
Like the other witnesses, Gladys Liltz said she fears incarceration would be fatal because of Bonnie's fragile physical health.
Neither malice nor hate motivated Liltz's action, said Susan Liltz, who discovered her sister and her niece unresponsive in their Schaumburg condominium May 27. Despondent over her recurring health problems and concerned Courtney would be placed in a state facility in her absence, Liltz fed herself and Courtney a combination of prescription drugs after she awoke feeling so ill she believed she was near death.
Bonnie Liltz recovered, but Courtney died about a week later without regaining consciousness.
Police recovered a handwritten note, which read in part: "I'm so sorry to put you all through this, but I can't leave my daughter behind ... I don't want her to live in an institution the rest of her life."
"I know my sister loved Courtney with all of her heart and grieves every day," said Susan Liltz. Bonnie was "scared to death" she was dying and feared for her daughter's well-being in a state-run facility.
"We've all heard horror stories of the things that happen in these places," Susan Liltz said.
Prosecutors offered no testimony in aggravation and did not cross-examine the witnesses who testified they believe Liltz poses no threat and will comply with probation requirements.