Judge considers testimony in Hoffman Estates murders

Lawyers for D'Andre Howard argued Tuesday that jurors should hear testimony from hospital personnel and Department of Children and Family Services social workers about Howard's mental state when his murder trial begins later this month.

Cook County Assistant Public Defender Deana Binstock is seeking to include the testimony as part of an insanity defense, which she intends to pursue when Howard goes on trial May 27. He is accused of murdering three members of his ex-girlfriend's family.

Binstock says Howard, 25, was legally insane on April 17, 2009, when he stabbed to death 18-year-old Conant High School senior Laura Engelhardt; her father, Alan Engelhardt, 57; and her maternal grandmother, Marlene Gacek, 73, in the family's Hoffman Estates home. Shelly Engelhardt, Laura's mother and Alan's wife, was seriously injured but survived the attack, which prosecutors say was preceded by a fight between Howard and Amanda Engelhardt, his then-girlfriend and mother of their daughter. Neither Amanda nor the baby was injured, nor was the Engelhardt's son Jeff, who was away at college at the time.

Defense attorneys say Howard, who was diagnosed as a child with post-traumatic stress disorder, was legally insane at the time of the murders. A person is legally insane if he suffers from a “mental disease or defect” that makes him unable to appreciate the criminality of his conduct. Because defense attorneys have no expert testimony to support their case, they're seeking to introduce evidence of Howard's insanity through other witnesses.

Those witnesses will offer jurors “the full picture of who D'Andre Howard was and what he came to on April 17, 2009,” Binstock said.

She says Howard's DCFS caseworker will testify to his “deteriorating mental state” in the months preceding the murders, while emergency room personnel will testify to his depression and suicidal tendencies.

Last week, Judge Ellen Mandletort disqualified 10 defense witnesses, ruling that their observations dating from 1995 to 2002 were “extremely remote in time” and therefore not relevant.

Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Maria McCarthy argued that the observations of DCFS workers were equally remote in time. Moreover, their evaluations were not offered in their entirety, said McCarthy, quoting from a DCFS report that describes Howard as an “avid storyteller” and from a Cermak Hospital report. That report describes Howard as “uncooperative” with “borderline anti-social traits,” but indicates he experienced no delusional thoughts or auditory hallucinations, McCarthy said.

Binstock responded by saying people with mental illnesses frequently minimize those illnesses to appear “normal” even when they aren't.

“The jury should have the opportunity to consider that,” Binstock said.

Mandletort said she will announce her ruling Monday.

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