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People v. Liggett





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Vermilion County; the Hon. RALPH S. PEARMAN, Judge, presiding.


We are concerned here with section 2-7 of the Juvenile Court Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 37, par. 702-7) which, with limited exceptions not pertinent here, prohibits the criminal prosecution of minors under the age of 17 years except when the court determines after a proper hearing that it is not in the "best interests of the minor or the public" to proceed against the minor merely under the Juvenile Court Act. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 37, par. 702-7(3).

On April 30, 1979, a petition was filed in the circuit court of Vermilion County for leave to charge criminally defendant, Phillip Anthony Liggett, then aged 15, with the offenses of murder, rape, and deviate sexual assault allegedly committed against his three-year-old half sister. The petition was heard on May 11, 1979, and after the court deliberated the matter for three days, it entered an order on May 14, 1979, permitting the prosecution. An information was then filed. On July 30, 1979, defendant tendered and the court accepted a plea of guilty to count II of the information charging him with felony murder while committing the underlying forcible felony of deviate sexual assault. On October 25, 1979, the court imposed a sentence of 24 years' imprisonment.

On November 21, 1979, defendant filed a motion requesting: (1) leave to withdraw his plea of guilty; (2) a vacation of his conviction and sentence; and (3) a vacation of the order authorizing that he be charged as an adult. In the alternative he requested that his sentence be reduced to the minimum term for felony murder, 20 years (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)(1)). The motion was heard and denied on February 7, 1980, and notice of appeal was timely filed.

Defendant's motion to withdraw the plea did not allege irregularities in the acceptance of the plea. It maintained that prosecution of him as a criminal was improper and for that reason sought to set aside his conviction and the order permitting the prosecution. He reasserts that position on appeal, contending that the evidence presented at the hearing on the petition together with that presented at sentencing show that, as a matter of law, he should not have been treated as a criminal.

As the question of the propriety of the original ruling on the petition for leave to prosecute is so closely related to the propriety of the denial of leave to withdraw the plea of guilty, we consider these issues together. We need not consider: (1) whether any claim of errors in permitting the filing of the charges was waived by the guilty plea; or (2) whether evidence introduced at sentencing may be considered with reference to whether the ruling permitting prosecution should stand. We conclude that even considering all the evidence in the record, the trial court's decisions to permit prosecution and refusing to set aside the determination were not error.

Section 2-7(3)(a) of the Juvenile Court Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 37, par. 702-7(3)(a)) states in part:

"In making its determination on a motion to permit prosecution under the criminal laws, the court shall consider among other matters: (1) whether there is sufficient evidence upon which a grand jury may be expected to return an indictment; (2) whether there is evidence that the alleged offense was committed in an aggressive and premeditated manner; (3) the age of the minor; (4) the previous history of the minor; (5) whether there are facilities particularly available to the Juvenile Court for the treatment and rehabilitation of the minor; and (6) whether the best interest of the minor and the security of the public may require that the minor continue in custody or under supervision for a period extending beyond his minority."

In the definitive opinion of People v. Taylor (1979), 76 Ill.2d 289, 391 N.E.2d 366, the court stressed that where, as here, proper procedural requirements had been met, a trial court has substantial discretion in determining whether to permit prosecution. That opinion noted that the United States Supreme Court had stated in Breed v. Jones (1975), 421 U.S. 519, 44 L.Ed.2d 346, 95 S.Ct. 1779, that the Federal Constitution did not require any particular quantum of evidence to support a decision to allow such prosecution. The refusal of a trial court to permit prosecution of a juvenile for murder was upheld in In re Burns (1978), 67 Ill. App.3d 361, 385 N.E.2d 22, with that court also emphasizing the large discretion vested in the trial court. The opinion described the criterion of section 2-7(3)(a) as not being exclusive. In People v. Underwood (1977), 50 Ill. App.3d 908, 365 N.E.2d 1370, modified on other grounds (1978), 72 Ill.2d 124, 378 N.E.2d 513, we have likewise held the trial court to have wide discretion in ruling on a similar petition. Accord, People v. Cater (1979), 78 Ill. App.3d 983, 398 N.E.2d 28.

We now turn to the extensive evidence which the trial court considered in determining to permit filing of criminal charges and in refusing to allow the guilty plea to be withdrawn and the order permitting filing of the charges to be vacated.

Several statements of individuals were admitted by stipulation at the hearing on the petition for leave to prosecute. The most important was one given by defendant to police. He stated that in the early morning hours of April 29, 1979, he went to the room of his three-year-old half-sister Robin at a time when no adults were present in the house and the other children were asleep. He described placing a sock soaked in cleaning fluid over her mouth and nose while she slept. He admitted his intent was to make her unconscious so that he might sexually attack her and that he knew the liquid would have that effect as he had previously tested it. He further described carrying her to his bedroom, having anal intercourse with her, then returning her to her room, laying her face down on her bed, and checking to see that she was still alive and breathing. He stated that he knew nothing of Robin's death until their mother found her body the next morning.

Statements by defendant's mother's boyfriend and defendant's grandmother were also presented. The boyfriend stated that: (1) he kept the cleaning substance for use in cleaning electrical parts; (2) he had warned defendant that its use would make a person drunk; (3) Robin had complained of defendant's bothering her; (4) once Robin had to be taken to a doctor because defendant had tried to force her to inhale some chemical substance; and (5) when defendant saw Robin's body, he picked her up by the foot "like a slab of bacon," said "she is dead" and dropped her. The grandmother's statement described the substance previously inflicted upon Robin as being chloroform obtained by defendant supposedly for use in a biology class. She indicated that Robin had said defendant threw the substance at her with some of it getting in her eye. The grandmother also said that one month before Robin's death, the child had said defendant "stuck his hairy in me."

Evidence indicated that the child died from having inhaled the cleaning substance.

A probation officer's social report described defendant as being the oldest of the six children of his mother, who had been married several times. He was stated to be in good health, but his home life was deemed unstable. He was in the ninth grade, doing average or better work with good attendance and no adverse disciplining record at school. He attended church and did not use tobacco, alcohol or drugs. He had minor police contacts prior to November and ...

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