The Alton woman who killed her two babies in the 80s has been granted parole
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
SPRINGFIELD, IL — The Illinois Prisoner Review Board has granted parole to Paula Sims, a former Alton woman who killed her two baby daughters in the 1980s.
The board voted 12-1 after more than an hour of testimony and discussion.
“This was a great victory for women, a great relief for me and a great gift to Paula,” said her attorney, Jed Stone. “It is a recognition that postpartum psychosis is real and the women who suffer from that mental illness need to be treated and understood and not brushed aside with having the ‘baby blues.’”
It is unknown exactly when Sims, 62, will be released from Logan Correctional Center, northeast of Springfield. She has been incarcerated there for the last 30 years.
“It’s not uncommon for someone to be released the same day,” said Jason Sweat, chief legal counsel for the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. “It’s also not uncommon for it to take a couple of days, up to a couple weeks.”
Stone said Sims plans to move to Decatur and live with the owner of a publishing company, for which she has worked for years. Eventually she would like to be a dog groomer, according to her parole plan.
Sims’ trial in 1990 was one of the most sensational and widely covered in Illinois history. It was moved from Edwardsville to Peoria because of intense publicity in the St. Louis region.
The jury convicted Sims of first-degree murder, concealing a homicide and obstructing justice in the suffocation death of her 6-week-old daughter, Heather Sims.
Paula Sims later admitted to the 1989 killing of Heather and 1986 killing of her other daughter, 13-day-old Loralei Sims.
Stone argued at her parole hearing Thursday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Springfield that she committed the crimes while suffering from postpartum psychosis, a rare mental illness that causes some new mothers to experience delusions, hallucinations and paranoia.
Stone said knowledge and understanding of postpartum psychosis and depression have evolved over the past three decades, and recent changes in Illinois law allow them to be considered as mitigation factors in sentencing.
Experts say postpartum psychosis occurs in one to two mothers per 1,000 who give birth and can cause them to hurt themselves or their children.
Speaking on behalf of Paula Sims at the hearing was Chicago-area psychologist Susan Feingold, who has written extensively on depression, psychosis and other postpartum illnesses.
The board also heard from Bill Ryan, a prison-reform activist who knows Sims.
About 25 people attended the hearing in support of Sims. No one attended in opposition.
Ex-husband Robert Sims, 63, and son Randall, 27, died in a Mississippi car crash six years ago. Paula Sims has no other close family, Stone said.
Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Haine sent a five-page letter to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board on Aug. 30, “strenuously” opposing Sims’ release. It’s not yet known publicly who else may have submitted written testimony.
Haine argued that Sims lied about her crimes for years to avoid punishment and confessed only after she was found guilty of murder and wanted to avoid the death penalty.
Haine characterized Sims’ request for clemency as a “shifting and far-fetched psychological story” that shouldn’t change the conclusions of jurors at her trial or the decisions of judges who handled appeals, petitions and other court reviews over the years.
“Postpartum depression is a difficult mental illness and complicated issue,” Haine wrote. “But in this case, Defendant’s claims about her psychological state from decades ago have been fully litigated and her life sentence maintained.”
Teri Maddox is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.