Witnesses: Woman admitted hurting baby — (The Pantagraph)

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The Pantagraph

Sep 11, 2006

By Brett Nauman, bnauman@pantagraph.com

BLOOMINGTON — A Normal woman accused of killing her infant son admitted she injured the boy shortly after his death, two of her closest friends testified Tuesday.
Sheila Palma told a group of friends that she shook, punched and squeezed 3-month-old Erik Williams after his crying woke her at night, Dionne Otto and Eva Stephen said on the first day of Palma’s murder trial.

“I asked her why she did it,” Otto said, detailing a conversation that took place two days after the boy’s death. “She said ‘I just couldn’t stop.’ She said the crying got to her … and when she started she couldn’t stop.”

Palma is charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors say she beat the boy shortly after his crying woke her about 4 a.m. on Feb. 7, 2005.

Williams was taken to BroMenn Regional Medical Center after Palma called 911 to report he was not breathing. The boy was taken off life support after doctors determined he could not breathe without a respirator.

Bloomington defense attorney Jack Vieley says Palma is bipolar, suffered from postpartum depression and was on four different anti-depressant medications when she made the incriminating statements.

Vieley said in his opening statements that Palma was trying to cover for someone when she confessed to causing the injuries that killed Williams.

Palma admitted to beating Williams not only to her friends, but to Normal Police detectives during several hours of videotaped interviews.

Eva Stephen, who said Palma looked to her like a mother, said she and Otto convinced Palma to turn herself in to police after she admitted she injured Williams.

Assistant State’s Attorney Michelle Brooks said Palma was unhappy about giving birth to a boy.

Palma gave birth to a girl 11 months before Williams’ birth, but witnesses said she was not as loving toward the boy as with her daughter.

Otto said Palma was frustrated with the responsibility of being a mother and had even talked of putting Williams up for adoption.

Palma showed no emotion after the boy’s death, Otto said. Stephen and Otto began questioning Palma two days after Williams’ death when DCFS took custody of the older daughter.

“She freely started to tell me what happened,” Otto said. “She told me she just wanted the kids to go away, that she was tired, that she didn’t want to do this anymore, that she just wanted to sleep and that she didn’t want to hear the crying anymore.”

Otto said Palma also admitted she had beaten her son on previous occasions when his crying had frustrated her.

Jurors on Tuesday also started listening to several hours of Palma’s videotaped confession to Normal Police.

The confession will continue to be played for the jury when the murder trial resumes Wednesday at the Law & Justice Center in Bloomington.