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The Chicago Tribune
By James Kimberly (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Angela Rozas (email@example.com), Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporter William Presecky and freelance reporter Rita Hoover contributed to this report
Published April 5, 2006
Mom held in slaying of 34-year-old woman with cerebral palsy
Kane County authorities Tuesday charged a St. Charles woman with the stabbing death of her disabled 34-year-old daughter, calling the incident that also involved their car plunging off an embankment a family tragedy.
First-degree murder charges were filed against Betty C. Whitten, 57, who was pulled from the mangled wreckage of the car Monday in downtown St. Charles along with the body of her eldest daughter, Nyakiambi Whitten.
The daughter, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities at age 2, had been stabbed three times with a kitchen butcher knife in the family’s home in the 42W500 block of Hawk Circle in unincorporated Kane County on Monday morning, Sheriff Kenneth Ramsey said.
Soon afterward, Betty Whitten crashed the family’s 2002 Hyundai sedan through a guardrail near the Prairie Street Bridge. It flipped on its roof in Mt. St. Mary’s Park along the Fox River. Police said they believe Nyakiambi Whitten was dead before she was put into the car.
Ramsey would not discuss a possible motive for the crime other than to say that Betty Whitten was under pressure from circumstances in her life and from caring for her disabled daughter.
“Reviewing the totality of the circumstances, this was a tragic family situation,” he said.
On Tuesday, Betty Whitten’s husband, Earstin, 57, struggled to make sense of events, saying it is out of character for his wife. He has not talked to her since the crash, he said.
“There are different emotional stages in a person’s life. Clearly … something was not right,” he said.
“I would like to know why this happened. I would like to see my wife get whatever assistance she needs to become whole.”
Ramsey said Betty Whitten is “remorseful and emotional” and under suicide watch in the Kane County Jail, where she was being held in lieu of $2 million bail. She is scheduled to make her first court appearance Wednesday morning in Kane County court.
Earstin Whitten said his family had “normal issues” but no extraordinary problems. Nyakiambi, whose name means “first daughter” in Swahili, was “an innocent, loving, caring person,” who was keenly perceptive, he said.
She was educated in special education programs in St. Charles schools and at Elgin Community College until she was 21. Her father said she loved music, eating at restaurants, and helping him in the vegetable garden and the kitchen, but she required care at all times. Cerebral palsy and vision problems made her prone to falling, so she needed help walking, he said.
“It is hard,” Earstin Whitten said, his voice breaking. “I know how much she cared for me. She just enjoyed my company and the interaction. I would speak to her like she was an adult, and she enjoyed it.”
Friends said Betty Whitten is a creative artist who enjoyed knitting and quiltmaking and was rarely seen out of the company of her daughter. She taught craft classes part time, her husband said.
“She certainly seemed like she had patience with her daughter whenever she came in here,” said Annie Kordesh of the Fine Line Creative Arts Center in St. Charles, where Betty Whitten frequently attended classes in knitting and other crafts.
She also was active in her community, organizing a knit-a-thon at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles to benefit the Snug Hug for Kids clothing drive. The hats, mittens and scarves go to the Children’s Home & Aid Society of Illinois.
“She never seemed out of sorts or expressed anything negative about her [daughter] or anything like that,” Kordesh said.
Earstin Whitten said he learned of trouble in his home Monday morning from a frantic telephone call made by his 24-year-old daughter who was home with her mother and sister.
“She was in fear for her life when she ran from the house. She flagged down somebody and called from their cell phone,” Whitten said. She also called police.
Sheriff’s deputies responded to the 911 call and found blood at the home. By the time Earstin Whitten arrived from his job in Northbrook, police had cordoned off his house and refused to let him inside, he said.
While sheriff’s police were at the well-kept raised ranch house in a cul-de-sac of similar homes on large lots, a St. Charles police officer happened upon the Whitten family car stopped on Prairie Street just west of the bridge over the Fox River.
The officer thought the car had stalled, police said. He turned on his emergency lights and tried to approach the driver, but Betty Whitten put her car into gear and sped off the side of Prairie Street, police said.
The officer radioed for help, and rescue workers took Betty Whitten and her daughter to Delnor-Community Hospital in Geneva.
Nyakiambi Whitten was pronounced dead in the hospital. An autopsy Monday determined she had died of stab wounds, but found no defensive or self-inflicted wounds on her body, said Kane County Coroner Charles West.
Her mother was released from the hospital Monday afternoon, a spokesman said.
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Accused mom told doctor of depression — (CBS2 Chicago)
Whitten has been charged with stabbing her 34-year-old daughter last month, and then driving a car with the lifeless body off a bridge.
During an inquest on Wednesday, Whitten’s doctor testified that he gave her a prescription for the anti-depressant Zoloft, and told her to seek counseling for her church.
A court hearing next week will determine if Whitten is now fit to stand trial.
The slain daughter, Nyakiambi Whitten, had cerebral palsy.
Earlier, a judge ruled that Whitten was unfit to stand trial, and was ordered to be moved from the Kane County Jail to a state mental health facility.
Police said they found Nyakiambi Whitten with a fatal stab wound to the chest and her mother with non-life-threatening injuries inside a car after it rolled off the bridge in St. Charles April 3.