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People v. La Pointe





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Second District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County, the Hon. Edwin L. Douglas, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Phillip E. La Pointe, entered an unnegotiated plea of guilty in the circuit court of Du Page County to the murder of Peter Moreno, Jr., and was subsequently sentenced to natural life imprisonment without parole. The appellate court reduced that sentence to 60 years' imprisonment. (85 Ill. App.3d 215.) We granted the State's petition for leave to appeal, and now consider as the principal issue: Did the trial judge abuse his discretion in imposing the natural life sentence, for, unless he did, its reduction was error.

A number of witnesses testified at the 18-year-old defendant's August 31, 1978, sentencing hearing. David Cichelli testified that on March 7 he was employed at a service station in Elmhurst. On that morning the defendant, who was a friend of his, walked up to him at the gas pumps. Defendant told Cichelli that he was going to shoot a cab driver. They then went to the service station washroom where the defendant produced a gun and showed it to Cichelli. As the latter handled the gun and looked down the barrel, defendant told him it was loaded. Defendant then left the station but returned an hour or two later and told Cichelli that he "shot him in the head." Cichelli testified that at that time he believed defendant was kidding, but asked why he shot the cab driver. Defendant said he did it for the money but that it was not worth it. Defendant also told Cichelli that he shot the cab driver because the driver saw defendant and knew who he was.

Sergeant James Altman of the Elmhurst police department testified that he participated in the investigation of the shooting death of Peter Moreno, Jr. When the sergeant arrived on the scene the victim was dead and lying on the floor in the front seat area of the cab. Decedent's head was near the passenger door and his legs were pulled up against, and partially under, the seat on the driver's side as if someone had driven the cab. His pockets had been turned inside out and there was no money or identification on him.

Sergeant Ralph O'Connell of the Elmhurst police department testified that he supervised the evidence work for this investigation and was present when decedent's body was examined by a pathologist. Decedent had been shot twice in the head and neck area from the rear and at close range.

Deputy Sheriff David Leeberg testified that he was assigned to the inmate recreation room of the Du Page County jail as a supervisor. He was acquainted with defendant and had occasion to observe him during his incarceration. In the latter part of March and early April the witness observed the defendant approximately 10 times wearing a tee shirt with the words "Elmhurst Executioner" written on it. The deputy also testified that he heard another inmate tell defendant that he was "crazy" for wearing a shirt with those words on it, and thereafter did not observe the defendant wearing that tee shirt.

Joseph Ray, a 16-year-old student, testified that he had been acquainted with the defendant for a year and a half. Two or three weeks before defendant was arrested, Ray met him at a store in Elmhurst, and defendant asked Ray to go to a drugstore restaurant with him to rob the cash register. Ray further testified that, prior to the drugstore conversation, he and defendant had once burglarized a home. The presentence report revealed that defendant was on probation for this burglary when the murder was committed. Ray also testified that defendant had telephoned him from the county jail and asked that he bring some "hash" to the defendant, but Ray refused.

Deputy Sheriff Robert Marx testified that he worked in the inmate recreation room and was acquainted with the defendant. He observed the defendant a week or two after arriving at the county jail wearing a tee shirt with the lettering "Elmhurst Executioner." The tee shirt was not produced after defendant gave permission for his belongings at the jail to be searched, but the officer testified it could have been flushed down the toilet or burned.

Deputy Sheriff Pat Cleveland testified that he worked at the county jail and observed the defendant in April of 1978, wearing the tee shirt that said "Elmhurst Executioner." Cleveland told defendant that he was "nuts" to be wearing that shirt, at which defendant "just laughed."

Patricia Duddles testified that she was 27, and, at the time of his death, she was living with and engaged to be married to Peter Moreno, Jr. She was 6 1/2 months pregnant with his child at the time of the hearing. She further testified that, following Peter Moreno, Jr.'s death, she lost her home and that he had been her only means of support.

The defense witnesses testifying in mitigation of the offense included defendant's mother, Delores Malo, who stated that defendant had resided with her all his life. During the past three years she had noticed a change when he became involved with drugs, although she had never known him to be violent. She had sought counseling for him when he was 15 because he was a runaway. She stated that the relationship between the defendant and her husband, defendant's stepfather, had deteriorated because of her husband's drinking problem.

The stepfather, William Malo, testified that his relationship with the defendant was good until the defendant became involved with drugs, and thereafter defendant was "out of control" and "couldn't take any kind of responsibility," although the stepfather testified he had never seen him become physically aggressive with anyone.

The Reverend Erling Jacobson testified that he became acquainted with the defendant through defendant's mother, who asked him to help with the defendant's problem. Reverend Jacobson tried to work with the defendant, but felt defendant was dangerous to himself and to society and should be locked up. He realized ...

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