Judge admits girl's dying words in murder trial

Jurors will hear the dying declaration of 18-year-old Conant High School senior Laura Engelhardt when the man charged with her murder goes on trial, a Cook County judge ruled Thursday.

Defense attorneys for D'Andre Howard, charged with the 2009 slayings of Laura, her father Alan Engelhardt, 57, and her maternal grandmother Marlene Gacek, 73, argued Judge Ellen Mandletort should not allow a jury to hear statements Laura made to police officers who responded to an early-morning 911 call from the family's Hoffman Estates home on April 17, 2009.

Prosecutors introduced Laura's final words at a 2011 hearing during which Hoffman Estates officer Michael Turman said he asked Laura who stabbed her and her family; she told him “Dre.” When Turman asked, “who's Dre?” Howard interjected, “I'm Dre. She stabbed me first.” Turman confirmed that Laura admitted stabbing Howard.

Howard claimed he stabbed Laura Engelhardt 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 his second child.

Cook County Assistant Public Defender Georgeen Carson argued Laura's statements did not constitute a dying declaration and should not be admitted.

Laura Engelhardt gave “no indication she believed she was dying” and was in fact receiving treatment from paramedics at the time she spoke with police, Carson said.

Moreover, the situation did not constitute an “ongoing emergency,” Carson said. Statements made during an emergency to authorities assessing the situation also can be admitted during trials.

“It was a domestic situation. Everybody was down,” Carson said, referring to other victims, including Shelly Engelhardt (Laura's mother and Alan's wife), who recovered from multiple stab wounds, and Howard himself who had a stab wound to his arm.

Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Maria McCarthy insisted Laura understood the gravity of her injuries, as evidenced by her asking paramedics if she was going to die as she rode with them to the hospital.

As for police, the circumstances did constitute an ongoing emergency, McCarthy said.

They “encountered a very bloody scene with five injured or dead victims. That is the definition of a chaotic scene,” McCarthy said.

Laura used “the few words she was able to muster to tell the truth,” McCarthy said.

Ruling for the prosecution, Mandletort found the statements “were made to assist police in what was clearly an ongoing emergency” at that home and therefore did not violate Howard's constitutional rights.

Mandletort also denied a defense motion to dismiss aggravated kidnapping charges against Howard, who authorities say used yarn to tie up several members of the Engelhardt family that day, calling it an issue of fact for a jury to decide.

Prosecutors also asked Mandletort to exclude the defense's expert witnesses, claiming their opinions of Howard's childhood diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder are “vague, speculative and irrelevant.” Defense attorneys contend that condition influenced his behavior the night of the murders.

“There is no direct connection in any of their responses ... between the defendant's childhood and his state of mind at the time of the crime,” McCarthy said. “What they're saying is messed up kids turn into messed up adults. But does that mean they're not responsible for their actions?”

Cook County Assistant Public Defender Deana Binstock argued jurors should hear the opinions of her experts, who prosecutors can then cross examine.

Binstock suggested the PTSD testimony may go toward explaining Howard's self-defense claim.

“If we can show it's material and relevant we should be allowed to present it,” Binstock said. “We're not discussing whether this will be persuasive, but whether we can present it.”

Mandletort rules on the motion Feb. 5.

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The Engelhardt family, clockwise from top left: Alan Engelhardt, Laura Engelhardt, Shelly Engelhardt, Jeff Engelhardt and Amanda Engelhardt.
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