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People v. Childers





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Tazewell County; the Hon. JAMES HEIPLE, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied April 22, 1981.

Defendant, a 17-year-old youth at the time of the offense, was found guilty of murder by a jury in the circuit court of Tazewell County in violation of section 9-1 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 9-1). The victims were his stepfather, his mother, and his younger brother. He was sentenced to three concurrent terms of imprisonment for his natural life.

On appeal defendant raises a number of issues for our consideration. These may be grouped into the following headings: (1) discovery, (2) suppression of confession, (3) trial mechanics, (4) reasonable doubt as to sanity and (5) excessive sentence.

The principal evidence at trial consisted of defendant's confession. This revealed that he arrived home at about 1 a.m. on July 9, 1978, and after a quarrel with his stepfather and his mother he killed them by means of a handgun and a knife. He followed these homicides by killing his younger brother by stabbing him when he was apparently attempting to escape from the house. Defendant then ransacked the house in an attempt to create the appearance of a robbery and multiple homicides. He placed the weapon and knife he had used, money he had taken from the wallets of his parents, and the clothing he was wearing in a paper sack. He cleaned himself up, changed clothing and departed the premises, driving toward Peoria from the home in Pekin. On the way he threw the paper sack into the river from a bridge. Neither the sack nor its contents were ever recovered.

Defendant proceeded to his fiancee's home where he threw his house key to his own home into the yard. It was subsequently recovered. He let himself into his fiancee's home and attempted to sleep but was unable to do so.

Other evidence, aliunde the confession, revealed that at about 3 a.m. he called the police station and told the police, after identifying himself, that he had been unable to gain entry into his home at Pekin and asked that someone be sent there to investigate. He left the telephone number at which he could be reached. The police responded and discovered the bodies of the victims shortly afterwards.

The officer in charge of the investigation called the number which defendant had left with the police and asked him to come to the station house. He complied, arriving about 5:30 a.m. with his fiancee and her mother. He was wearing blue jeans and a red shirt. The officer informed defendant of what had been discovered at his Pekin home, whereupon he became very overcome emotionally. The officer then conducted an interview with the defendant. It was of a very general nature as to the family, who their friends were, what he knew about them and when he had last seen them. Defendant stated that he had remained with his fiancee during the evening hours up to about 1 a.m. at which time he had returned home but was unable to gain entry because he did not have his house key. He asserted that he had given it to his younger brother who had not returned it. He then asked how long he would be required to remain at the station house. The officer testified that he informed defendant that he would not be required to stay but that the police would appreciate his staying in order for them to obtain further information about the family. He further testified that defendant stated that he would stay as long as necessary, and that he would cooperate and help in any way he could.

The officer further testified that after the initial interview defendant's fingerprints and palmprints were taken for comparison purposes. According to the officer, defendant approached him a short time thereafter and stated that he had forgotten to tell the police that he had changed clothing earlier in the evening before going home, and that he had placed this clothing between the front doors of the house. No such clothing was ever found. Shortly after this, defendant consented to a search of his car and of his person (fingernail scrapings and footprints). The consent on the car was obtained about 9 a.m. and consent for the person about 10:45 a.m. The officer testified that these searches were also for comparison purposes.

Meanwhile, the police had interviewed a neighbor to the Pekin home. He stated that he had been awakened at about 1 a.m. by muffled sounds, banging, screams and yelling, coming from the Pekin house. He further told the police that he saw all the lights in the house come on and then go off except for a small hall light, and that he saw a person in red clothing in the back bedroom window. Then, he stated, one of three cars in the driveway left being driven by someone he could not see. The officer in charge of the investigation first had the opportunity to review the neighbor's statement sometime between noon and 1 p.m.

Sometime between 3:30 and 4 p.m. the officer confronted defendant with the neighbor's statement. Defendant became somewhat emotional and stated that he wanted to tell the truth. He was given the Miranda warnings and then made a statement to the police which can be summarized as follows: He went to the house and entered using his own key; he found the bodies of his brother, stepfather, and mother; he picked up the gun which he found lying near his brother's body and carried it around the house; during his tour of the house he became covered with blood and changed his clothing; he became frightened and left the house taking the bloody clothing and gun with him; he threw the clothing and gun into the river from the bridge while driving toward Peoria; he denied having anything to do with the killings.

Following this second statement, the officer told defendant that he did not believe him. Defendant then asked to talk to his fiancee and this was permitted. He then made a third, or final statement, commencing at 5:37 p.m. and concluding at 5:58 p.m. The Miranda warnings were reiterated, and the third statement was the confession, the substance of which has been set forth above. At the conclusion of the statement defendant was arrested on charges of murder.

Prior to trial defendant filed motions for the appointment of a psychiatrist and for the suppression of his confession. He testified at the suppression hearing that he had been held at the police station for about 12 hours, and had had no sleep the night before. He claimed that he asked to be released about three to five times but received equivocal responses from the officers, e.g., "In a minute," "As soon as this was over," "In a few minutes." He also claimed that he was suffering severe stomach cramps and was given a patent-medicine remedy but no other medical attention; that at first he was permitted to roam at large by himself but soon after the first statement an auxiliary guard followed him everywhere. He further averred that at one point he asked for a lawyer and that he had a discussion with the officer in charge about a possible manslaughter charge. After the manslaughter discussion, he said that he had changed his mind about seeing a lawyer. He was permitted freely to speak with his fiancee at various times during the day.

Other witnesses at the suppression hearing on behalf of the defendant, his fiancee, the fiancee's mother and defendant's aunt, all testified along the same lines, i.e., that defendant appeared pale and ill, that they were told that he might be able to leave "in a few minutes" but that they were free to leave at any time.

The State's witnesses at the suppression hearing, two officers who had been involved in the investigation, testified that defendant had asked for an attorney between the second and third statements and then said that he had changed his mind and did not want one. They denied using the term "manslaughter" but indicated that the words "self-defense" and "heat of passion" were used in the conversation. One officer stated that the defendant asked at the conclusion of the third statement whether he might be charged with ...

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