Judge: 3 experts on PTSD not needed in Hoffman Estates triple-murder trial

Special to the Tribune

A Cook County judge today denied an effort by a defendant in a triple murder case in Hoffman Estates to have a trio of experts testify that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder when the slayings occurred.

Judge Ellen Mandeltort said the three experts would not add to an understanding of D’Andre Howard’s claims of self-defense and that their testimony would amount to speculation about Howard’s state of mind on the night of the murders.

The ruling paves the way for Howard’s trial later this year on murder and related charges in the slayings of Laura Engelhardt, 18, her father, Alan Engelhardt, 57, and her grandmother, Marlene Gacek, 73, in 2009. He faces charges of murder, attempted murder and kidnapping, prosecutors said.

In her ruling, Mandeltort said Howard is not relying on mental illness as a defense and that any testimony about his abuse as a child could be understood by a jury without a detailed explanation from experts.

“The defendant will rely on self-defense, not insanity,” said Mandeltort. “His prior abuse is not a concept beyond the comprehension of the trier of fact.” 

Howard has been in custody since April 2009 after police discovered Laura Engelhardt, 18, and the bodies of Alan Engelhardt, 57, and Marlene Gacek, 73, in their home in the 1000 block of North Bluebonnet Lane. Howard is charged with using a butcher knife to kill them following an argument with Amanda Engelhardt, his girlfriend and mother of his child, prosecutors said. Amanda Engelhardt, the daughter of Alan and Shelly Engelhardt, was not injured but witnessed the killings, authorities said.

Shelly Engelhardt, the mother of Laura and Amanda, also was stabbed but recovered and is expected to testify at the trial. 

Assistant public defenders Deana Binstock and Georgeena Carson were trying to show that Howard was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because of childhood abuse and felt threatened by family members. Binstock said the ruling was a setback for the defense.

“It impacts our defense strategy,” said Binstock. “PTSD is a significant component of self-defense.”

Mandeltort also pressed Binstock for a trial date, noting that that case will be four years old in April. Binstock asked for another continuance, which was scheduled for March 11.

Binstock and Carson took over the case a year ago after Howard’s original attorney, assistant public defender Jim Mullenix, retired.

“I will try this case when I’m ready,” said Binstock after the hearing. “It would be a disservice to D’Andre not to. I’m anxious to go to trial, too.”

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