Young Parents' Troubled Pasts Shaped Custody Case | WGLT

Young Parents' Troubled Pasts Shaped Custody Case

Apr 9, 2018

When Brittney Mikesell was booked into jail on Dec. 2 for mob action, she was unaware that her boyfriend had died from stab wounds that led her to rush him to the emergency room an hour earlier.

That news would come two days later at her bond hearing.

The complex relationship between Mikesell and Cullen Hedrick had been on the radar of authorities for some time as the two gained a reputation for violent altercations with other people.

Often the pair covered their faces while armed. Hedrick carried knives, including a machete, and Mikesell was known for using pepper spray, according to police reports and court documents.

The problems Mikesell and Hedrick had experienced throughout their lives also were known to investigators. A history of mental illness and involvement with the Department of Children and Family Services during their childhoods was chronicled in DCFS reports obtained by The Pantagraph and GLT for a series of stories on Mikesell's pending murder case.

The birth of a baby girl to the couple in July 2017 sent child welfare workers searching into the depths of Mikesell and Hedrick’s backgrounds for any information that would help the state address a serious concern: Were the parents capable of caring for their baby?

Staff at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center were the first to document concerns. What was described as a “psychotic episode” by Hedrick at the hospital was noted by staff, according to records.

The baby’s transfer to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center Children’s Hospital in Peoria produced more questions about the child’s care. The baby tested positive for alcohol and marijuana in her system at a level that showed Mikesell had been drinking shortly before the birth, according to records.

Brittney Mikesell smiles at her mother, Melody Justus, while making an appearance in McLean County court Thursday, April 5, 2018. Mikesell faces murder charges in the death of her boyfriend, Cullen Hedrick.
Credit David Proeber / The Pantagraph

A verbal disagreement in the baby’s room that escalated to raised voices between Mikesell and Hedrick also was reported by Peoria hospital staff.

A maternal aunt living in northern Illinois agreed to serve as foster parent for the infant while DCFS set up visitation and services for the parents.

Hedrick’s visits were sporadic and shorter than the two hours he was allotted because he asked to leave early, DCFS staff noted in its reports. His three weeks in jail before his death further reduced the time Hedrick had with the baby.

Mikesell had told authorities that her boyfriend had tried to kill her during her pregnancy and that he used drugs.

In an interview with police after Hedrick's death, Mikesell told a Bloomington police detective that she and Hedrick were engaged, but he "leads a double life and (she) doesn't know what goes on when he's away from here," according to the officer's summary of the interview.

Hedrick’s chances of getting custody of his daughter hinged on him addressing his domestic violence and substance abuse issues—an unlikely prospect, a child welfare worker wrote in a report last fall.

Mikesell’s record of visits was only slightly better than her boyfriend’s.

But in a February report, a foster care worker said Mikesell visited her baby, worked on court-ordered services and was looking for a job while Hedrick was in jail.

The relevance of Mikesell’s November progress evaporated after the Dec. 2 death of her boyfriend and the murder charges that were filed against her in January.

“Now that Cullen is deceased and Brittney is incarcerated, visits and services have been suspended, but (the baby) is thriving,” said the report filed in McLean County court as part of the state’s abuse and neglect case against the parents.

In a letter to a foster care worker written by Mikesell after she had been charged with Hedrick’s death, she offered to surrender her parental rights to the baby—but only if her mother and not her aunt was given custody of the child.

Seeing no reason to move the child, the state prepared for a March 28 trial on the issue of parental rights. That hearing, where the most serious allegations against Mikesell may have been laid out for a judge, changed direction after she changed her mind about her child's future.

On that date, Mikesell agreed to give up her rights to the baby. The aunt's custody remains in place pending adoption proceedings, court records show.

Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original version to reflect the status of adoption proceedings. 

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