Ver­dict

SHE said lit­tle Heather had been ab­ducted, but the po­lice weren’t buy­ing it – es­pe­cially when they learnt her other daugh­ter had been ‘snatched’ in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances.

People (South Africa) - - Contents - BY WAL­TON GOLIGHTLY

ON April 29, 1989, Paula Sims was tak­ing out the garbage when a masked gun­man or­dered her into the house be­fore knock­ing her un­con­scious. When she awoke her sixweek-old daugh­ter, Heather, was gone. Paula called the po­lice. They searched the sur­round­ing area, but it was only sev­eral days later that Heather’s body was found in a park Dump­ster.

A num­ber of things about the case wor­ried the de­tec­tives of Madi­son County, Illi­nois. Foren­sic ev­i­dence sug­gested lit­tle Heather’s body had been kept in a freezer prior to be­ing dumped – pre­sum­ably to make con­firm­ing time of death more dif­fi­cult. And the black plas­tic bag hold­ing Heather’s body was man­u­fac­tured by the same ma­chine within sec­onds of the bags found in the Sims’ home.

Paula hadn’t been in­jured in the at­tack.

More damn­ingly, she said she re­mem­bered be­ing struck on the head – peo­ple knocked un­con­scious rarely re­mem­ber the blow that caused the con­cus­sion.

There was more. In June 1986, while liv­ing in Jersey County, Paula claimed a masked gun­man en­tered her home, made her lie on the floor and fled with her 13-day-old daugh­ter, Lo­ralei. The in­fant’s re­mains were later found in a wooded ravine be­hind the Sims’ home. Ac­cord­ing to the pathol­o­gist, hands placed over Lo­ralei’s nose and mouth suf­fo­cated her. Need­less to say, the prime sus­pects were Robert and Paula Sims. But with in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to charge them, the case went cold and the cou­ple moved. Now his­tory had re­peated it­self. The state im­me­di­ately re­moved the cou­ple’s son, Ran­dall, two. De­fence at­tor­ney Don­ald Groshong dis­cussed an in­san­ity plea with Paula, but she con­tin­ued to in­sist she hadn’t killed her chil­dren. More­over, she had no his­tory of de­pres­sion, post­par­tum or oth­er­wise. At her trial, Paula stuck to her story about Lo­ralei and Heather hav­ing been ab­ducted. The prose­cu­tion claimed she’d killed the in­fants be­cause the cou­ple wanted only male chil­dren. On Fe­bru­ary 2, 1990, Paula was found guilty of two counts of first-de­gree mur­der, two counts of ob­struct­ing jus­tice and one count of con­ceal­ing homi­cide.

Be­fore sen­tenc­ing, Paula con­fided in Groshong that she had in­deed killed both in­fants. Her hus­band hadn’t been in­volved, she added. How­ever, her ac­count of how she killed the chil­dren dif­fered from the find­ings of the pathol­o­gists.

Paula was sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment with­out pa­role. She and Robert were di­vorced a short while later. In Au­gust

1994 she filed an ap­peal al­leg­ing Groshong pro­vided in­ef­fec­tive as­sis­tance of coun­sel by dis­miss­ing the use of the post-par­tum psy­chosis in­san­ity de­fence. She also claimed he was only fo­cused on her ex­hus­band’s de­fence.

She said she suf­fered from ma­jor de­pres­sion and guilt at the time, be­cause Robert did not want Heather and blamed her for hav­ing the child. She also ad­mit­ted to al­most killing Ran­dall one night.

“He was cry­ing and I’d tried ev­ery­thing I knew to com­fort him, but noth­ing was work­ing,” she re­called. “Be­fore I knew it I snapped and laid him down in the playpen and yelled at him to be quiet and then I threat­ened him; he quit cry­ing im­me­di­ately. His eyes got big and he just stared at me. I quickly picked him up, held him closer to me, and told him I was so sorry; I didn’t mean it.”

Paula’s re­quest for a new trial was turned down, as was a 2007 pe­ti­tion for clemency and she re­mains in prison. Ran­dall Sims lives in Illi­nois and vo­cally de­fends his father against ac­cu­sa­tions that he should have been pros­e­cuted for his role in help­ing cover-up Heather’s death.

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