Friday, August 19, 2011

Feldkamp inquest - outrageous

This morning three inquests were conducted into deaths that occurred at the home of Jack and Audrey Feldkamp in Marengo. They were conducted in Rockford Public Safety Building, which houses the Office of the Winnebago County Coroner. Why Winnebago County? Why not McHenry County?
The Notification of the inquests provided the date, Friday, August 19, 2011, and the time, 9:00AM. When I received my Notice, after having indicated to McHenry County Marlene Lantz that I wished to attend, I immediately questioned why the inquests of Jack Feldkamp and Doran Bloom were being held in Rockford (in Winnebago County).

The answer was that it was for convenience. Since Audrey Feldkamp died in the hospital in Rockford, her inquest would be held there, and the McHenry County Coroner decided to hold her two inquests there, too.

At about 9:15AM Mr. and Mrs. Bloom, Sara Sutschek from the Northwest Herald, and I were led to the conference room where people were already waiting. No relatives of the Feldkamps were present. It turned out that the coroner's jury had convened at 7:00AM and had read the documents associated with the deaths. Two detectives were there from McHenry County, and a deputy coroner from McHenry County was there. And a court reporter.

A coroner's inquest is to be public, and I was astonished that the jury had been empaneled and had started its business out of public view. The instructions to the jury were not given in public, the swearing in of the foreman and the jury was done out of public view, and the jury had access to documents out of the public view. The two detectives may have been present to answer questions from jurors. If any questions were asks, they won't e on the record, because the court reporter didn't arrive until just before 9:00AM.

When the inquest formally started, Winnebago County Coroner Elizabeth "Sue" Fiduccia conducted the inquest for Audrey Bloom, reading a summary of the case and asking the jurors if they had reached a verdict. Clearly, they had already decided, because they did not expect to retire for deliberations. The McHenry County detectives who were present were not introduced. Det. Ed Maldonado was asked a question, but he was not sworn in. Perhaps he was sworn in earlier, when the jurors were meeting in private.

Afterwards, I challenged the procedures of the inquests with both the Winnebago County Coroner and the McHenry County Deputy Coroner.

All the jurors were from Winnebago County, where only one of the deaths occurred. It appears to me that the Illinois Statutes require residents from the county in which the death occurred.

"In all counties, in cases of apparent suicide, homicide, or accidental death or in other cases, within the discretion of the coroner, the coroner may summon 8 persons of lawful age from those persons drawn for petit jurors in the county."

This clearly indicates that the jurors are to come from McHenry County for the inquest into the deaths of Jack Feldkamp and Doran Bloom. However, no jury panel from McHenry County was present!

"Sec. 3‑3025. Verdict of jury. It shall be the duty of the jurors, as sworn aforesaid, to inquire how, in what manner, and by whom or what, the said dead body came to its death, and of all other facts of and concerning the same, together with all material circumstances in anywise related to or connected with the said death, and make up and sign a verdict, and deliver the same to the coroner. As part of its verdict, the jury may make recommendations other than for criminal prosecutions."

I had wondered why eight McHenry County jurors were going to inconvenienced by going to the Government Center and with what transportation they would be furnished. Well, I got the answer to that. They weren't!

Coroner Fiduccia said I was one of only a few people to question their way of doing inquests over the last 30 years. Maybe Winnebago County residents don't know or don't care. The old "ignorance and apathy" routine. Well, they should care.

Likewise, McHenry County residents should care. Residents should demand that inquests be conducted entirely in the public view, except for the deliberations to reach a verdict. And that the State law be followed. The only people who would have been inconvenienced would have been the two detectives from McHenry County Sheriff's Department. And really only one of them needed to be there. He didn't need a "minder".

There was at least one erroneous statement that occurred in Coroner Fiduccia's summary of Audrey Feldkamp's death. That had to come from a deputy's report or a detective's report from the McHenry County Sheriff's Department.

And that's enough to make me wonder about any other erroneous statements or conclusions.

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