Judge: Mom confessed voluntarily

Judge: Mom confessed voluntarily

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BLOOMINGTON - A Normal woman accused of murdering her infant son voluntarily confessed when police questioned her about the boy's death last year, a McLean County judge said Thursday.

Judge Scott Drazewski denied motions to suppress statements Sheila Palma made to detectives.

She is accused of beating 3-month-old Erik Williams when his crying woke her in the middle of the night Feb. 7, 2005.

A psychiatrist who evaluated Palma had testified previously that the 23-year-old mother knew she was breaking the law when she attacked her son and even said "I wanted my son to die" during an interview.

Defense attorney Jack Vieley argued Monday that Palma was so drugged up on depression medication that she could not respond properly when questioned by police in the days after her son's death.

Vieley told the judge that Normal Detective Ryan Ritter took advantage of Palma's intoxication to elicit a confession when he questioned her Feb. 7 and 9 at the Normal Police Department.

"You have a little deception going on the part of the police. The detective told her during the interview that he wanted to help her," Vieley said. "He wasn't trying to help her except to help into prison."

Lawrence Jeckel, a psychiatrist from Champaign, testified Thursday that he saw no evidence drugs kept Palma from answering questions accurately.

Rather, Palma broke down and started talking when police told her she was lying, Jeckel said, adding that she admitted to beating the boy months before his death and felt trapped by having to take care of him.

Drazewski said he believed Ritter questioned Palma about the killing in a nonconfrontational manner and read her Miranda warnings before she made incriminating statements during the February interview.

Palma, of the 1500 block of Northbrook Drive, faces two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery of a child.

Vieley has said Palma was taking several prescription drugs to treat bipolar depression and postpartum depression.

Those drugs impaired her judgment and prevented her from knowing she was committing a crime when she killed her son, the Bloomington attorney has said.

While the psychiatrist has disputed that theory, Jeckel said Thursday that Palma does have a long history of mental illness.

She attempted suicide in third grade and overdosed on aspirin in high school. Palma's father also killed himself when she was 2 years old.

Jeckel said Palma typically experiences periods of extreme irritability lasting one to three days. During those episodes, she's been known to cut herself.

Palma will return to court Feb. 24 for a status hearing.

Vieley told the judge he needs to digest Thursday's ruling before deciding how to proceed on the case.

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