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Illinois Supreme Court weighs admissibility of ‘reenactment’ in murder case

Illinois Supreme Court weighs admissibility of ‘reenactment’ in murder case

Case plagued by procedural issues could be retried

By ANDREW ADAMS 
Capitol News Illinois
aadams@capitolnewsillinois.com

In October 2019, Jessica Logan’s 19-month old son died. 

Less than two weeks later, police and an investigator from the state’s Department of Child and Family Services met Logan at her Decatur home and gave her a “toddler size mannequin” before telling her to reenact finding the lifeless body of her son in his bed. 

The video of that reenactment – which Logan’s lawyers maintain she was coerced into performing – was then used as a key piece of evidence in Logan’s 2021 conviction on first-degree murder charges. Logan was later sentenced to 33 years in prison. 

Now, Logan is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to step in and grant her a new trial. She claims the use of that reenactment video violated her constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. 

Without that evidence, Logan’s attorney argued to the high court on Tuesday, the case might have been decided differently. 

“The state was telling the jury, ‘You... can convict on inadmissible evidence alone,’” Illinois Assistant Appellate Defender Gilbert Lenz said in court. “It’s hard to imagine a more prejudicial evidentiary error.” 

In addition to arguing on constitutional grounds, Lenz told the court that the video’s inclusion in Logan’s trial was unfair because Logan was never read her Miranda rights – a warning that anything she said could be used in court and that she had the right to a lawyer. 

If the court agrees the reenactment video was inadmissible at trial, Lenz claims other key pieces of evidence would also be tainted as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

This would include the testimony from Dr. Scott Denton, a forensic pathologist who told the jury that Logan’s son’s “only possible cause of death was smothering,” according to court filings. 

But Denton made that claim after viewing the reenactment video, something Lenz argued should have disqualified it as evidence in the case. This would limit Denton’s testimony only to what he knew before viewing the video. 

“At a fair trial, at a new trial, [Denton] would tell the jury ‘At the autopsy I did not know how this child died. It was asphyxiation but I don’t know whether it was a homicide, I don’t know whether it was an accident,’” Lenz argued. “The implications for the state’s ability to prove its case when the doctor testifies to that in a murder case are obvious.” 

On the other side, the state focused on what constitutes coercion, arguing that the reenactment did not qualify as investigators improperly taking Logan into custody. 

Much of this came down to what was meant – and understood – when a DCFS investigator told Logan “we need to do a reenactment.”   

Assistant Attorney General Josh Schneider, who argued the case on behalf of the state, said the word “need” did not stop Logan from refusing to participate. 

While the justices betrayed little as to how they would rule in the case, they did question Schneider about the nature of the reenactment, probing to find the limits on what constitutes an involuntary action. 

“Knowing that she had another child in the home and whatever DCFS decided would impact whether she got to keep that child, wouldn’t and couldn't she have reasonably understood that to mean that ‘I have to participate in this?’” asked Justice Joy Cunningham. 

Justice P. Scott Neville also prodded this, asking about the nature of being alone with a state investigator and two police officers at the scene of the alleged crime. 

“You don’t think that might be considered coercive by someone who’s never been involved in the criminal justice system?” Neville asked. 

While Schneider pushed back on those questions, he also argued that in order for a situation to count as “custody” for the sake of a Miranda warning, someone must have their movement restricted and be in a coercive atmosphere. 

“No one ever told her she wasn’t free to leave, no one ever physically restrained her, no one ever displayed a weapon or a use of force, no one ever invoked their authority to tell her that she had to stay,” Schneider told the court. “She never indicated she wanted to leave. And at the end, she in fact did leave without any obstruction from law enforcement.” 

In addition to arguing that the evidence was admissible, Schneider said that the lower courts did not make a mistake that would warrant a retrial. 

“Here there was ample evidence – really, overwhelming evidence – that the defendant was guilty of the homicide in this case,” Schneider said. 

He cited a financial motive – a $25,000 life insurance policy and Logan’s financial issues – and circumstantial evidence of Logan Googling “how do you suffocate” prior to her son’s death. 

The justices will now consider the case, although there is no set timeline on when they might issue a final opinion. 

While the high court could take the case in several directions, Logan’s legal team requested a new trial. The state has asked that the conviction – and the existing evidence – be allowed to stand. 

In addition to the legal issues surrounding the reenactment video, Logan’s case garnered national attention for the state’s use of a controversial forensic method called 911 call analysis – where so-called experts analyze the guilt of a 911 caller based on what they said and how they said it. 

In late 2022, ProPublica published an investigation into the use of that method in this case, calling it “junk science” and noting that the detective in Logan’s case used the fact that Logan – through tears – said “I need my baby” instead of directly asking for help as evidence of her guilt. 

The non-profit news organization reports that in the time since its initial investigation, North Carolina’s Office of Indigent Defense Services as well as groups like Fair and Just Prosecutors and the Innocence Project have all raised concerns about the practice. 

Editor’s Note: Capitol News Illinois is a partner with ProPublica and shares reporting resources. ProPublica did not contribute to this story. 

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

 

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Andrew Adams

Andrew AdamsAndrew Adams

Andrew has experience covering cities and communities throughout Illinois and his stories have appeared in papers from Chicago to Effingham. His unique blend of data-driven and traditional reporting help identify the throughlines of policy and politics.

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