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People v. Darnell





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Henry County; the Hon. ROBERT J. HORBERG, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied May 8, 1981.

Defendant Scott Darnell was 16 years old when he was found guilty, following a bench trial, of the rape and murder of 10-year-old Vickie Larson. The court imposed a sentence of life imprisonment for the murder and a concurrent sentence of 30 years' imprisonment for the rape conviction. Defendant appeals from the rape conviction and from the life sentence.

According to the record on appeal, during the night of July 12, 1979, a search was begun for two missing persons: Scott Darnell, then 15 years old, and Vickie Larson, 10 years old. At 6:30 a.m. on July 13, Darnell was discovered along a country road near Andover, Illinois. He told police officers that he was the person they were looking for and said that he had been beaten up by two men on motorcycles and that was the last he had seen of Vickie. Darnell was taken into police custody, and in the afternoon of the same day he confessed to raping and murdering Vickie. Police obtained a tape recording and a written statement of his confession.

Darnell stated that he had been "going with" Vickie's older sister, Shelly, during the summer; however, as time went on, he started liking Vickie more. Three or four days before July 12, he took a shovel from his grandfather's tool shed and went into a cornfield, where he dug a hole in a small clearing. He said, "[F]or the next three days I tried to talk myself out of it. I knew what I was going to do." Then on July 12 during the day, he went to the Larson home and told the girls that he had gifts for them that he would give them at the baseball game that night. Shelly was not going to the game, so he said he would give them to Vickie. About 7:30 p.m., at the game, he told Vickie he had bought her an Arabian colt. He took her to the cornfield on the pretense that she could see the horse there and ride it. He stated, "[W]e just kept getting closer and closer and finally we got to where the hole was and I raped her and afterwards we went in the cornfield and I was in back and she was in front and I got out my bandana and put it around her neck and strangled her." Then he put her body in the hole and covered it with dirt, using his hands. By then it was getting dark. He ran through some fields, and finally he slept in a bean field. He woke up in the morning and was starting to go to his grandmother's house when he was stopped by officers searching for the missing girl and was arrested.

Shortly after Darnell's arrest and before his confession, the grave was discovered by another party of searching police. The grave was located in the cornfield and shoe prints were clearly visible in the loose dirt. Investigating officers uncovered the body of Vickie Larson. A photograph of the body before its removal from the grave shows the soil partially removed. The girl was clothed in a short sleeve print top, red shorts and had bare feet. The shorts were pulled down just below her buttocks. Later Darnell led officers to where he had buried his red bandana and to the shed where he had taken his grandfather's shovel used to dig the hole.

When defendant was first arrested, his clothing was removed for forensic processing and his body was photographed. A picture of his genital area was introduced in evidence, without objection, for the stated purpose of corroborating defendant's confession. The photograph shows red marks on the tip of the penis that appear to be abrasions. The photograph was taken between 11 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. on July 13, 1979. In addition, his tennis shoes matched the shoe print on the surface of the grave.

On the date of Darnell's arrest, the State filed a juvenile petition alleging that he was delinquent in that he had committed the offenses of murder and rape. Later the State filed a motion seeking to prosecute defendant as an adult, and the motion was allowed. Thereafter, a two-count information was filed on July 24, 1979, charging defendant with the offenses of murder and rape.

Defendant asserted the affirmative defense of insanity, and as a consequence the court heard extensive psychiatric testimony and details pertaining to defendant's social history. Defendant had witnessed and participated in sexual activities from the time he was five years old. His mother died when he was seven, and he then lived with his adoptive father, Robert Darnell. When defendant was 10 years old, he attacked a 7-year-old girl and was referred to the Department of Children and Family Services. Beginning in 1974 when he was 10 years old, defendant received treatment at various mental health facilities including Galesburg, Tinley Park, and Chicago, and had resided in numerous institutions, including Bethany Home in Moline and Covenant Children's Home in Princeton.

Defendant's sordid history of criminal activity includes an armed robbery in Rock Island in 1975, an attack upon a 10-year-old girl in 1977 which resulted in juvenile proceedings, and in 1978, felony charges of unlawful restraint and forcible detention arising out of an incident where he held a male victim hostage at gunpoint. After this occurrence, he was committed to the juvenile division of the Department of Corrections. In May of 1979 he was released by the Department of Corrections for residence with his grandparents in Andover, Illinois. Department records indicate that his parole eligibility would be considered in July of 1979. Without attempting to describe defendant's mental health history or his history of criminal conduct in detail, it can be fairly said that the lawful authorities of the State of Illinois provided extensive social, medical, and psychiatric treatment and tried numerous institutional settings in an effort to rehabilitate defendant.

At trial the defense called two psychiatrists who had treated defendant in the past. Both indicated that he was a paranoid schizophrenic. One doctor, who had interviewed defendant again after the present charges were filed, thought that he was not capable of conforming his conduct to the requirements of law and thus was legally insane at the time of the crime. The second doctor stated, in answer to a hypothetical question, that defendant did have a substantial ability to appreciate the nature of his acts and also the ability to control himself. According to defense counsel, this conclusion expressed by his second expert witness was a surprise to counsel and was contrary to a previous statement by the doctor.

The psychiatrist called by the State testified that defendant was not psychotic, that he was in touch with reality, that he had tried to hide his crime, and that he would not have committed the crime had a policeman been present, thus indicating that he could control his conduct. This doctor also recounted defendant's statement to him that he knew what rape was, that he had previously had sexual intercourse that was not rape, that when he raped Vickie he had no trouble entering her, but he did not ejaculate and lost his erection when he withdrew his penis. This doctor, as well as the other experts, noted that defendant associated sex with violence due to his childhood experiences.

The pathologist who performed the autopsy upon the victim's body, testified that he had no opinion "one way or the other" as to whether or not she had been raped. He found no evidence of injury to the genitalia or of presence of sperm although he did not do a sperm test. He stated that rape could not be ruled out on the basis of his findings.

At the conclusion of the bench trial, the court found defendant guilty of rape and murder. Following a presentence investigation and a sentencing hearing, the court imposed a sentence of life imprisonment for murder and a concurrent sentence of 30 years ...

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