Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Coroner's Inquests - how are they conducted?

In April 2007 I attended the first Coroner's Inquest I had ever attended. I had taken an interest in the David Maxson case and had been very concerned about the cookie-cutter reports of McHenry County Sheriff's deputies who had been involved in that case. When I read their reports, I recall thinking, "The same person wrote all of these reports!"

After I received the Notification of the Maxson inquest, I asked for information about how an inquest is conducted, and I received a four-page document titled "The Inquest". I looked for that document recently, because I had recalled a "small" detail about witnesses being those who had first-hand knowledge of the incident, such as a deputy who had actually been at the scene.

More recently, when I requested again a copy of the rules for conducting an Inquest, I was not sent the document I had received four years earlier. Instead, I was sent photocopies of the Statutes.

Upon finding today the copy of "The Inquest" that I received in 2007, my attention was drawn to several provisions.

"The (inquest) jurors are citizens of Mc Henry County in which the death occurred." (sic)

So this means that eight jurors will be provided by the McHenry County Jury Commission for two inquests now scheduled, and they will be transported to Rockford for the Jack Feldkamp and Doran Bloom inquests on August 19. Also, a McHenry County deputy coroner and the witnesses to be called will have to be transported to Rockford.

"The Coroner will summon to the inquest those individuals who have pertinent information concerning the incident. This often includes, but is not limited to, the person who found the deceased, witnesses to the incident, police officers and investigators, pathologists, and in some instances, a direct relative or others involved."

In the Maxson case, Lt. Donald Carlson spoke on behalf of the Sheriff's Department. He was not at the scene. Last week I was told that he hadn't even been in town. So his testimony was second-hand; it was hearsay. He could only repeat what he had been told by those who had been at the scene or what he had read in their reports.

At the Puchmelter inquest, Det. Asplund reported about her investigation, but no Corrections Officers or inmates were summoned to testify about what preceded his death in the McHenry County Jail.

At the Tommy O'Dell inquest, Detective Maldonado testified about what he had learned after the holding cell death of an inmate, but no one with first-hand knowledge was summoned to testify.

At the Kurt Milliman inquest, Det. Mike Quick testified in a confusing manner about what he thought had happened. But Deputy Singer was not summoned, nor was Deputy Kremer, whose name was mentioned by Det. Quick at the Milliman inquest, but whose name had not appeared anywhere in the press releases. Was Deputy Kremer second on the scene? Singer's direct testimony would have been more helpful to the jury than Det. Quick's secondhand recounting.

Can a family member testify or speak?

According to "The Inquest" from Coroner Marlene Lantz's office, "Such family members or eye-witnesses shall, if they request, be given an opportunity to testify at the inquest."

A family member wished to speak at a recent inquest but was told she could not.

"The Inquest" document contains a reminder that testimony at an inquest is sworn. Therefore, "Testimony connot (sic) be changed at a later date." There is a warning about perjury in "The Inquest" document.

Will any direct witnesses with first-hand knowledge be called at the August 19 inquests? Will the Coroner's Reports indicate any defensive wounds on the hands or arms of any of those who died? Will any of the jurors think to ask about them?

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