JOLIET | It is not every criminal defendant facing charges of driving under the influence who admits, under oath, to being "pretty drunk."
Cecil Conner Jr., 23, of Steger, admitted during his trial to having consumed large amounts of alcoholic beverages for the three days leading up to the May 10 accident that killed 5-year-old Michael Langford Jr., his girlfriend's son who was in a child safety seat in the back seat.
"I was pretty drunk. I was highly intoxicated," Conner said. "I could barely walk."
Conner is charged with two counts of aggravated driving under the influence. He admitted to being involved in the auto accident that occurred in a residential neighborhood of Steger and could not deny many of the negative details prosecutors offered up about him because the liquor impaired his memory.
"I don't remember," was his repeated answer.
Conner offered a vague account of the events leading to the death of Langford, and the destruction of girlfriend Kathie LaFond's 1998 red Chevrolet Caprice. He said he recalls LaFond coming to the party at his cousin's house, where he had spent several days "watching the NBA playoffs" and drinking 40-ounce bottles of beer, to take him home.
He recalls her being stopped by a police officer in Chicago Heights, seeing her being arrested, then being told by a police officer to drive her car home.
"I don't remember the exact words, but (Chicago Heights police Patrolman Chris Felicetti) ordered me to drive. If I hadn't, I'd be arrested," Conner testified.
Conner admitted he started the car's ignition and began to drive away even though he realized he was in no physical condition to operate an automobile.
"Why did you start the car?" defense attorney Jeff Tomczak asked.
"If I didn't, I'd be arrested," Conner responded.
Yet in cross-examination by Assistant State's Attorney Debbie Mills, he emphasized he ultimately chose to drive the car while intoxicated.
"(Felicetti) didn't put the keys into the ignition. You did?" Mills asked.
"That's right," Conner said.
Later, Felicetti said he never threatened Conner with arrest or ordered him to drive the car. "No, I did not," was his repeated response.
Felicetti previously testified he did not see signs of Conner being intoxicated that day. Police officers who investigated the accident, which happened less than a half-hour after the Chicago Heights traffic stop, and several medical personnel who treated Conner said it was clear to them he was under the influence of alcohol.
Tomczak at one point Friday asked Felicetti, "You gave him the keys (to the car), didn't you?"
"The vehicle was turned over to" Conner, was Felicetti's response under oath.
In other testimony, St. James Medical Center overnight security supervisor Kevin Kutta told of how he overheard LaFond in the hospital emergency room tell someone else, "'I asked the cop to let Cecil have my car. That's how he got my keys. That's how he got my car. That's how he got my baby,'" Kutta recalled LaFond saying.
The judge permitted the comment, even though Tomczak said it was "unfair, and prejudicial to the defendant."