Trial in infant's death delayed; Cedar Creek Township woman accused of murder; son had been adopted.

Date: 2005-04-10

Author: Pamela Lewis Dolan, Post-Tribune staff writer

More than three years have passed since 18-month-old Luke Evans passed away.

Two years have passed since the Lake County Sheriff's Department concluded his life was taken at the hands of his adoptive mother.

But as of last week, the accused, Natalie Fabian Evans, remains free on bail as her trial has, again, been postponed.

Luke died at a Chicago hospital on Nov. 30, 2001, nearly a year after he was adopted from Russia by Natalie and Steve Evans.

Natalie Evans claims that on Nov. 29, at the couple's Cedar Creek Township home, she was unable to wake Luke, so she put him in bath water to stimulate him. When those efforts proved unsuccessful, Luke was taken to St. Anthony Medical Center in Crown Point.

Doctors in Crown Point administered a CAT scan, which showed extensive injuries to Luke's brain, according to court records. The next day he was flown to The University of Chicago Hospitals, where he was declared brain dead.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's office ruled Luke's death a homicide. Examiners concluded death was caused by massive head injuries, shaken baby syndrome, along with poor nutrition, poor hydration and poor weight gain.

Even after autopsy reports appeared damning evidence, it wasn't until a year later that the Lake County Prosecutor's office filed charges against Natalie Evans.

At the time of her arrest, those close to the investigation said the prosecutor's office had to wait for enough medical evidence to be collected before filing charges.

Now, Evans' defense attorneys claim they are awaiting more medical testimony, in the form of pre-trial depositions, before Evans is finally able to have her day in court.

It was the inability to schedule doctors from Chicago to testify at Evans' bond hearing that led to her release on a $10,000 bond two days after her Dec. 16, 2002 arrest.

Since then, Lake Superior Magistrate Kathleen Sullivan has granted four continuances in the case.

The first, in March 2004, was granted in order for the courts to resolve a possible conflict of interest.

Evans and her husband hired T. Edward Page and Nick Thiros to represent them in a custody case after their other adopted son was taken into protective custody following Luke's death.

Once criminal charges were filed against Natalie Evans, and Page and Thiros were hired to defend her, Page said a conflict of interest statement was necessary because they knew Steve Evans would likely be called as a witness at Natalie's trial.

Steve and Natalie have since filed for divorce. Natalie has filed an order of protection against Steve.

Their other son, now approximately 6 years old, remains in foster care with a relative.

Over the past year, three additional continuances have been requested by the defense and granted by Sullivan.

"Difficulties have been created by the fact that doctors who treated Luke are from Chicago and the scheduling of necessary pre-trial depositions have proved virtually impossible," Page said.

Diane Poulton, spokeswoman for the Lake County Prosecutor's office, declined to comment since the case was pending.

A May date has been set for depositions to finally take place, according to Page. He is confident the case will go to trial in October.

Page said his client is "anxious to get this matter behind her as soon as possible."

Page maintains his client's innocence, saying the child had a series of health problems prior to the November 2001 incident that led to his death.

According to court records, Lake County detectives received a report from a Russian doctor regarding Luke's poor health prior to his adoption.

In December 2003, Natalie successfully petitioned to become administrator of Luke's estate. As administrator, she has filed a claim against the Secretary of Health and Human Services, claiming vaccines given to Luke by the Lake County Health Department days before his death contributed to his fatality. A stay on the matter was ordered last month, pending the outcome of the criminal case.

Court records do not indicate the settlement amount being sought.

Attorney Michael Rappa is handling the civil matter and could not be reached for comment.

Contact Pam Dolan at 648-3102 or pdolan@post-trib.com

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