Cook County, Illinois Judge Ellen Mandeltort ruled on January 17 that a stabbing victim’s dying statements identifying her killer are admissible at his murder trial. 18 year-old Laura Engelhardt, along with her father and grandmother, were allegedly killed by 24 year-old D’Andre Howard. Howard was Laura’s sister’s boyfriend. Police asked Engelhardt to identify who stabbed her, to which she responded “Dre”, Howard’s nickname. Several hours later, Engelhardt died of her fifteen stab and slash wounds.
Under Federal and Illinois Rules of Criminal Procedure, statements made by a party who is not available to testify in court would not be admissible, as these statements are hearsay. Pennsylvania has the same rule. The reason for this is that these statements violate the Confrontation Clause of the Constitution, which guarantees the accused the right to confront and cross-examine his accuser. The United States Supreme Court, however, has ruled that statements made by someone who is facing imminent death are admissible evidence. Federal and State Rules of Criminal Procedure have also carved out exceptions to the hearsay rule for dying declarations, provided that the victim knew that he or she was going to die and still had a clear mind. The rationale behind the dying declaration exception is that a person who believes she is dying is not going to lie about who did it.
Howard’s defense is arguing that the three killings were perpetrated in self-defense and that he was stabbed first. His defense also argued that Engelhardt’s dying declaration should not be admissible in court because there was no indication that she believed she was dying, and that she “may not have been in possession of her faculties”, making her statement unreliable. Howard has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and one count of aggravated kidnapping.
Looking at this situation objectively, one could argue that is Howard plans to argue self-defense at trial then the statement that he stabbed Laura really does not conflict with his theory of the case. However, in defending a person charged with Murder it is always advantageous to the defense to knock out as much evidence as possible.