Judge says Sliwinski fit to stand trial — (Chicago Tribune)

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Chicago Tribune

BY MIKE ISAACS, STAFF WRITER

Published January 12, 2006

Jeanette Sliwinski was treated for anxiety and depression at Lutheran General Hospital less than two months before slamming her car into a stopped vehicle killing three men last summer in Skokie, according to court testimony last week.

Judge Garritt Howard ruled at the end of the hearing, which included only one witness, that Sliwinski is fit to stand trial.

The ruling came as a surprise to no one since Sliwinski’s lawyer, Thomas Breen, agreed with prosecutors that his client is fit to stand trial. But Howard said a fitness hearing had to be held because an earlier lawyer of Sliwinski’s opened the door for it.

The earlier lawyer, William Wise, had referred to the report of a doctor that concluded Sliwinski was not fit to stand trial. At that time, Wise was arguing that his client was not fit for trial, but Sliwinski’s family changed lawyers and directions.

Howard last week said the fitness hearing was “absolutely necessary” and concluded Sliwinski understands the nature of the charges against her.

Forensic psychiatrist Peter Lourgos, who testified last week, acknowledged during cross-examination that he learned Sliwinski was treated for depression and anxiety at Lutheran General Hospital in late May and early June.

Prosecutors contend that on July 14 Sliwinski ran three red lights and then intentionally plowed into a stopped vehicle at Dempster Street and Niles Center Road in Skokie.

The crash killed Michael Dahlquist, 39, Douglas Meis, 29, and John Glick, 35, all of Chicago. The victims, musicians who all worked together, were on their way to lunch.

Lourgos said he interviewed Sliwinski twice to determine whether she was fit for trial. His last interview and the lengthier one was on Dec. 21, he said.

Lourgos said he looked for signs and symptoms of any current mental illness and asked her a variety of questions about her legal situation. He concluded Sliwinski is fit to stand trial “within a reasonable degree of psychiatric and medical certainly.”

Lourgos said that Sliwinski was on four drugs when he interviewed her — Seroquel, Sinequan, Zoloft and Klonopin. He described most of the drugs as anti-depressants that were taken by Sliwinski to help her sleep.

In cross examination, Lourgos acknowledged that Seroquel is also used to treat psychosis and schizophrenia as well as bipolar disorders. Breen also asked about other drugs and whether they are used to treat more serious illnesses.

But Lourgos concluded that Sliwinski currently is free from mental illness. He said he is not certain whether her lack of mental illness predates the medication, but recommended that she make no changes in her prescriptions.

Sliwinski appeared at last week’s hearing, still slightly hobbling from the summer car crash, and sat next to her lawyers. She wore blue prison garb and wore makeup for the first time. Sliwinski appeared more animated than at previous hearings, occasionally talking to her lawyers and even slightly smiling during a couple of exchanges.

The courtroom also included Sliwinski’s parents, who have attended each hearing, as well as about 16 family members and friends of the victims.

Sliwinski’s next court appearance is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Feb. 16 in Skokie.