Woman who killed disabled daughter: 'I would like to turn the clock back'

Chicago Tribune

A Schaumburg woman who gave her severely disabled daughter a fatal dosage of medication before trying to take her own life stood before a judge Wednesday afternoon and said she wished she could "turn back the clock and ... care for her again."

Bonnie Liltz gave her first public statement since she was charged last year with first-degree murder in the death of her 28-year-old daughter Courtney. Liltz pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, involuntary manslaughter, earlier this week, and prosecutors on Wednesday recommended that she receive four years of probation, plus mental health treatment, rather than prison time.

Judge Joel Greenblatt said he will announce his sentence next week. Liltz could also receive up to 14 years in prison.

The 56-year-old Liltz, appearing frail and at times crying, read a statement in court Wednesday in which she described adopting Courtney at age 5 as "the happiest day of my life."

"I never felt that she was a burden. Every day was a privilege," she said of caring for her daughter, who could not feed herself or talk and had limited mobility.

But Liltz described her growing fears about what would happen to her daughter as her own health declined having suffered from recurring cancer and severe intestinal problems.

"I felt the only place she would be safe would be in heaven with me," Liltz said. "I have a pain inside that is beyond words. I pray every day that someday we will be together again."

Liltz described waking up at 3:30 a.m. on May 27 last year with severe abdominal pain, convinced that her intestines were failing.

"I thought ... I was dying. I prayed to God, 'What's going to happen to Courtney?' I was scared and overwhelmed," Liltz said. "I couldn't bear the thought of her in an institution for the rest of her life." Liltz made a similar statement in a suicide note that authorities said she scripted that day.

Liltz did not directly address what authorities said she did next: She broke apart capsules of different medications and placed the powder inside them into Courtney's feeding tube. Then she swallowed some of the mixture herself with a glass of wine.

Liltz's sister, Susan Liltz, described in court Tuesday how she arrived later that day to find Bonnie and Courtney unconscious in their beds.

Susan Liltz and other supporters, including the sisters' elderly parents, testified on Bonnie's behalf, requesting leniency and saying a prison term would be tantamount to a death sentence because of her health problems.

Her father, Victor Liltz, called what his daughter did "an act of love."

"When she took the medication, she decided to take Courtney with her," he said.

Gladys Liltz, Bonnie's mother, said Bonnie believed Courtney "would go to heaven and be safe there."

"Bonnie's punishment is missing Courtney every day," Gladys Liltz said.

The case has touched a nerve among those who sympathize with the plight of parents of the severely disabled and those who believe it's never acceptable to take another human life.

Several people who knew the Liltzes, including those who worked at Courtney's former school and ran a day program she attended in Elgin for many years, said they perceived Bonnie Liltz as a devoted and caring mother who advocated for her daughter, noting she raised the girl as a single mother.

Liltz described how an early bout with ovarian cancer made it impossible for her to have biological children.

"But in all ways but biological, I was Courtney's mother," Liltz said in court. "I fed her, I dressed her and I loved her. Nobody in this courtroom could know how I loved her and how she loved me."

She also described how upset she was at the care Courtney received in an institutional setting where she was placed when Bonnie was hospitalized. Bonnie said Courtney's clothes were soiled when she picked her up, and she could tell Courtney was upset with her.

Thomas Glasgow, her attorney, said Bonnie "adopted a child that nobody else wanted. She had a lifelong dedication and devotion to someone society had thrown away."

Legal experts said they would not be surprised to see the judge choose probation in this case, given its circumstances.

"The legislature intentionally made reckless death a probationable offense," said Robert Loeb, a Chicago criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor. "And we should see some probation given for deaths under some cases. This sound like the case."

George Houde is a freelance reporter. Chicago Tribune's Tony Briscoe contributed.

Copyright © 2018, Chicago Tribune
A version of this article appeared in print on May 12, 2016, in the News section of the Chicago Tribune with the headline "Charged mother describes `pain' - Tells court she feared for disabled daughter's future" — | Subscribe
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