WHEATON – In the first Chicago-area criminal case broadcast live, a suburban Chicago woman pleaded not guilty Wednesday to killing her 7-year-old son and the 5-year-old girl she was baby-sitting.
Prosecutors claim Elzbieta Plackowska, 40, of Naperville, stabbed her son more than 100 times because she was angry with her husband, a truck driver who was often away from home. They say she stabbed the young girl about 50 times because she was a witness.
Plackowska stood silently in a blue jail uniform as her public defender entered not guilty pleas on her behalf to charges of first-degree murder. She also pleaded not guilty to two counts of aggravated cruelty for the stabbing death of two dogs belonging to the girl’s family.
Outside the courtroom, defense attorney Michael Mara told reporters he will start building Plackowska’s defense after the prosecution turned over photographs and 40 CDs and DVDs from its investigation.
“What happened here is a tragedy but it’s important to remember not to rush to judgment,” Mara told reporters. “Now we can start our defense.”
The county’s top prosecutor, DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin, said the materials given to the defense include Plackowska’s confession. He also said a psychiatrist has started a mental health evaluation of Plackowska in anticipation she may use an insanity defense. He said that process could take months.
The hearing was broadcast live on websites and captured in still photos as part of Illinois’ experiment with using cameras in courtrooms.
Cameras have been allowed inside courts recently in other Illinois trial courts. But the Naperville case is considered a big test for the program because it is the first major Chicago-area case in the pilot project launched by the Illinois Supreme Court.
Berlin said he didn’t notice the cameras, which were positioned behind Plackowska and the lawyers, facing the judge.
But he said it’s too soon to say whether they are a good idea. While he agrees the public should be able to see what happens in Illinois courtrooms, he expressed concern that the cameras would be a distraction.
“What happens in a courtroom is serious business, not entertainment,” Berlin said.
Mara declined to comment on the cameras, saying his only job is to represent Plackowska.
But asked whether he believes the cameras could affect Plackowska’s right to a fair trial, he said it’s possible.
Plackowska has told investigators that her son, Justin, and Olivia Dworakowski were jumping on the bed at the girl’s home in Naperville on the October evening they were killed. She ordered them to kneel on the floor and pray, then she stabbed them both as they begged for their lives, authorities have said.
Berlin has said Plackowska had been baby-sitting for Olivia since the beginning of the school year, although Justin and Olivia went to different schools and it wasn’t clear how or when the two families met.
Plackowska babysat Olivia numerous times as her mother worked various shifts as a nurse, he said.
Her next court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 4.