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Thursday, May 19, 2016
More on the Murder of Courtney Liltz
Yesterday I wrote about Bonnie Liltz who was due to be sentenced in court for murdering her daughter Courtney. The prosecutors in the case recommended she receive no prison time and simply be put on four years of probation. The Judge Joel Greenblatt rejected the prosecutor recommendation and sentenced Bonnie Liltz to four years in prison. According to various news reports, Liltz, appearing to be frail, burst into tears upon hearing the verdict. Liltz’s family was stunned. Liltz bond was revoked and she was immediately taken into custody. The Chicago Tribune and multiple local Chicago news outlets covered the sentencing. The sentencing received some national attention as well. I spent the morning reading the reaction to the sentence. Not surprisingly, the reaction was highly emotional. The dominant theme was the case is tragic. Based upon my reading, the dominant opinion was that the sentence was far too harsh. This is not surprising. Life with a disability is consistently devalued. Stigma consistently clings to disability. We people with a disability are fearful reminders of just how fragile the human body is. Symbolically, we represent the limits of medical science and technology. Our lives are inherently compromised and we are less human. How do I know this? I am reminded daily by typical others in large and small ways. Today, my reminder was a trip through the comment sections of various newspapers that covered the sentencing of Bonnie Liltz. Below is a random sampling of what I found. It reflects an ugly side of humanity I have become accustom to encountering.
This woman should receive some serious credits for all the years she took care of this young lady whose own parents apparently are not to be found.
This sentence warrants an immediate appeal. This woman is *not* a criminal!
Daughter had zero quality of life.
Wrong headed decision for sure. Judges generally go with prosecutors. This poor woman will now suffer more. Judge Greenblatt got his pound of flesh
She should just get counseling. This not your normal case. imbecile judge.
The prosecutor asks for probation and the judge gives her 4 years? Insane. Sadistic.
This judge ought to be recalled or kicked off the bench. A desperate mother in a desperate situation. Shame on the Judiciary of Illinois!
Four years in prison is uncalled for. This lady is not a threat to society and prosecutors even asked for probation. This is a judge being a big shot on a woman who is already suffering. This isn't justice.
I support euthanasia for people like Courtney who suffered on a daily basis. This was a mercy killing from her mum,
For the judge to say what she did was not an act of love is what irritates me the most.
She should have gotten probation. What she did was out of love.
Joel Greenblatt -not exactly a man of compassion. Even the prosecutors asked for only probation. Now this woman's life is ruined even more. Greenblatt from his statements thinks he is God. Greenblatt should be removed from the bench.
The above comments are disheartening. They are a reminder of what people really think when disability in the broadest sense of the term enters one’s life. Let’s be very clear: Bonnie Liltz is now a convicted murder. Yet she has received an unprescedented amount of sympathy. A large contingent of people think she should not be imprisoned at all. One commenter quoted above suggested euthanasia should be a legitimate option for people like Courtney Liltz. The quality of life Courtney had was deemed substandard. Her death while sad was in fact a blessing, an act of mercy. Stephen Drake was quoted in the Chicago Tribune and he really hit the nail on the head with the following: “Its almost a sainthood thing. This mother took care of someone no one else would want in her home, so maybe we should go gentler on her. In order to treat a perpetrator more gently than other perpetrators, we have to devalue the victim.”Link: http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/schaumburg-hoffman-estates/news/ct-mother-killed-disabled-daughter-sentence-met-20160518-story.html
Living a devalued life is something I have forcefully rejected for the last 35 years. I do not consider my life as being devalued in any way shape or form. I am content with my existence and body. I wish others perceived me as equally valuable but I know that is not the case. Where ever I go I am a problem. Likewise, caring for Courtney Liltz was a problem. She had the mentality of an infant. She required a great deal of care. She was suffering. She could only say a single word. This is a tragic existence for mother and child. The child in this case was a 28 year old woman. The bar was set low for Courtney’s care because her quality of life was equally low. Bonnie Liltz was praised for taking immaculate care of her daughter. All news outlets stated Courtney was kept clean. She was well fed. She was in good physical condition. Mother and daughter slept in beds a few feet apart. But wait there is more. Bonnie Liltz socialized with other people and included her daughter. She took her for walks. Her house was spotlessly clean. This makes no sense when compared to a typical parent raising a typical child. The implications here are obvious to me. Apparently they were obvious to Judge Greenblatt as well. In sentencing Bonnie Liltz he stated:
Life is precious. Even a life that is disabled. Even a life that is profoundly disabled. Your daughter, Courtney Liltz, was innocent and vulnerable and fragile. Her life was fragile. All life is fragile. The choice you made was not an act of love. It was a crime.
Murder is murder. All the emotion in the world should not obscure this fact but obscure it is when disability is present. Bonnie Liltz broke down in tears upon being sentenced. Her family and lawyer were shocked. I may sound cold hearted but Bonnie Liltz did the unthinkable: she committed murder. Stephen Drake noted “we put high penalties on murder because we send a message that we value life”. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the mean prison sentence for murder and non-negligent manslaughter was nearly 20 years and 8 months; the median was 24 years and 3 months. I am no legal scholar but Bonnie Liltz got a very light sentence. She could have been sentenced as charged and convicted to 14 years in prison. In theory Liltz could take back her guilty plea. She could then go to trial for first degree murder but this carries great risk in the form of a 20 year mandatory minimum sentence. For now, Liltz defense lawyer will file a motion seeking reconsideration of the sentence.
I am deeply bothered by the way in which this case has been framed and the overwhelming support Bonnie Liltz has received. This case reminded me of a memoir I tried to read that has gotten uniformly high praise--High Blue Air by Lu Spinney. The book details the aftermath of Spinney's son who experienced a severe traumatic brain injury in a snow boarding accident when he was 29 years old. For more than 5 years she and her family cared for her son. She detailed his recovery and what it was like to care for someone in a minimally conscious state. At some point, Spinney came to conclude her son's life was one long experience of unbearable suffering. She wrote:
I thought, how can he want to continue? His life was day-long, night-long torture. But I assumed there was nothing we could do except to continue doing everything we could to make his existence more comfortable. The most painful thing was imagining him, in his moments of awareness, feeling so profoundly lonely, unable to communicate, totally dependent on other people for every single aspect of his life. He was a ghost of himself.
I don't have the heart to recount the rest of this memoir. Suffice it to say, Spinney concluded the only "gift" I could give him was death. Death as a gift? A parent frames the death of their child as a gift? Between the murder and of Courtney Liltz and this memoir we are in unchartered waters. What happened to Dylan Thomas famous poem "Do not go gentle into that goodnight"? What happened to placing value on all human life? I understand broad based advances in medical technology have created unimaginable ethical conundrums and end of life care is exceedingly complex but where is our humanity. We live in a world in which a parent considers death is a gift to be bestowed upon her son. A world where a parent murders their child with a severe disability and is shocked she gets sent to prison. This is so wrong my heart breaks.