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People v. Stewart





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Jack Arnold Welfeld, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied June 4, 1984.

The defendant, Walter Stewart, pleaded guilty in the circuit court of Cook County to the murders of two persons, the attempted murder of a third person, and the armed robbery of the Empire Jewelry Store in Berwyn. Linda Manzano, who was shot in the course of the robbery, was the proprietor of the jewelry store. The two persons who were murdered, Danilo Rodica and Thomas Pavlopoulos, were Ms. Manzano's brother and her boyfriend. The defendant was apprehended by two Berwyn police officers as he fled the scene of the robbery with a black case containing some jewelry. In the circuit court of Cook County, after the State had read the facts into the record, the trial judge found the defendant guilty of the murders of Danilo Rodica and Thomas Pavlopoulos, the attempted murder of Linda Manzano, and the armed robbery of the jewelry store. The trial judge, at the conclusion of the death sentencing hearing, imposed the death sentence for the two murders and two 30-year concurrent prison terms for the attempted murder and the armed robbery. This appeal comes directly to this court from the circuit court pursuant to our Rule 603 (87 Ill.2d R. 603).

On July 31, 1980, the defendant waived his right to a jury trial. The defendant also changed his plea from not guilty to guilty on that day. Subsequent to the imposition of the sentences in this case, the defendant moved to withdraw his guilty pleas. The defendant contended that he had not received the admonishments that are required by our Rule 402 (87 Ill.2d R. 402). The defendant contended that the judge had no basis upon which to determine that his pleas were entered voluntarily or whether he understood the nature of the charges against him. The trial judge denied the defendant's motion. On appeal before this court, the defendant asserts 12 issues which he believes constitute reversible error and grounds for reversal of his convictions and require a new trial. We do not agree with defendant's assertion on any of the 12 issues he raises and therefore affirm his convictions and the sentences which were imposed.

On Sunday, February 10, 1980, Danilo Rodica, his nine-year-old daughter Joann, and Laura Landsinger all arrived at the Empire Jewelry Store at approximately 11 a.m. to open the store for business. At 1:30 p.m., the defendant entered the jewelry store wearing a beige trench coat, a light blue jogging suit, and dark sunglasses. The defendant asked Laura Landsinger to show him some men's diamond rings in the various display cases. In each instance, Laura would show the defendant the ring and inform him of the size of the diamond and the price. The defendant went from display case to display case inquiring as to the price of numerous items. Two other customers entered the store and Laura went to wait on them while the defendant continued to look at the display cases. Laura was putting new batteries in the customers' watches when she glanced up and saw that the defendant was no longer in the store.

At approximately 4 p.m., Linda Manzano, the proprietor of the jewelry store, and her boyfriend, Tom Pavlopoulos, came into the jewelry store. Linda and Tom had gone to the store that day because Tom's cousin, Evelyn Pavlopoulos, was coming to the store to buy a gift for her boyfriend. Linda waited on Evelyn and Evelyn left with her purchase. Linda and Tom, at Tom's suggestion, decided to wait until closing time and all leave together.

Between 4:30 and 5 p.m., the defendant again came into the store. He was now dressed in a light brown shirt, a brown vest, a thin brown tie, and the beige trench coat he had worn earlier when he had come into the store. He was carrying a brown leather and tweed briefcase. When the defendant entered the store, he walked over to counter number one, which was located in the rear of the store. Both Laura and Linda were standing behind that counter. Joann was in the back of the store sitting on a stool behind a shelf. Danny and Tom were standing near the desk and the safe in the rear northeast corner of the store. Linda asked the defendant if she could help him, but he requested that Laura wait on him and show him a ring in counter number one. Laura showed the defendant the ring he demonstrated an interest in. The defendant again asked to see several other diamond rings and inquired as to their size and value. Tom walked to the front of the store and sat on a heater. Linda began to wait on defendant when Laura was not sure about the prices of some of the rings. Linda showed defendant about eight rings. The defendant inquired whether it would be possible for him to pay with a check. Laura told the defendant that he could pay with a check if he had a driver's license. Danny interjected that because it was Sunday and the banks were closed there was no way for the bank to certify the check and therefore that a check would not be accepted. Linda suggested that the defendant pay with a charge card, but the defendant stated that he could not because he had already charged too much on his credit cards. Tom signaled Linda to hurry up and finish waiting on the defendant because it was getting late and they should close up. Linda explained that they were about to close and asked the defendant to come back on Monday.

As Linda was speaking to the defendant, he reached inside his coat and pulled out a .32-calibre blue steel revolver and pointed it at Linda and Laura. The defendant announced that it was a "stick-up" and that nobody should move. At the defendant's insistence, Tom came over to where Laura and Linda were standing. The defendant put the gun in his left hand and also held the briefcase he had brought with him in that hand. He rested the briefcase on the counter, reached over the counter, and began removing diamond rings and putting them in the case. The defendant did this many times until he could not reach any more rings. The defendant then ordered Linda to hand him the rings and watches from the display case. Linda followed his command and gave him all the jewelry he pointed out. The defendant then walked backwards toward the door with his gun still pointed at all of them. He warned them that they should not do anything because he had two "coke" dealers waiting outside.

The defendant left the store, carrying the briefcase with the jewelry in it. Linda Manzano watched the defendant after he left the store. She did not lose sight of him. Linda saw two men waiting outside for the defendant. The defendant was speaking to them; then he came back into the jewelry store. He stepped half-way into the store and again warned everyone that he had company outside and they should not move. The defendant told them that they should not do anything foolish because the two men outside could blow up the place. He then stepped out of the store.

Laura moved around the shelf to the rear of the store where Joann Rodica was sitting on a stool. A few minutes later she looked through a one-way mirror and saw the defendant re-enter the store for the third time. The defendant was carrying another briefcase when he came back into the store. This briefcase was black. Defendant ordered Linda to put the remaining rings from display counter number one into the briefcase. After Linda finished putting the jewelry into the case, the defendant waved his gun sideways, ordering Linda, Tom and Danny to move together. Neither Tom nor Danny moved. After the defendant ordered them to move many times, Linda took one step backwards.

After Linda stepped back, the defendant shot her in the abdomen from approximately 5 feet. Linda fell backwards and Tom and Danny moved towards the defendant. Laura heard the first shot and pushed Joann under a shelf in the back of the store. Laura stayed in back and pushed the hold-up button. Linda saw Tom and Danny struggling with the defendant. Tom grabbed the defendant's gun hand and Danny jumped on the defendant's back. Linda saw the defendant's hand slip from Tom's grip, heard a shot and saw her brother fall down, knocking over a display counter.

Two more shots were fired and Tom was still struggling with the defendant. Linda jumped on defendant's back, scratched his face, and pulled him away from Tom. The defendant shot Tom and pushed Linda to the ground. The defendant went over to Tom. Tom had stopped moving. The defendant then saw Danny's body convulsing. Linda testified that the defendant pointed the gun at Danny and shot him again.

The defendant jumped over the counter and ran to the rear of the store where Laura and Joann were hiding. Joann testified that she could hear her aunt Linda screaming. The defendant pointed his gun about 18 inches from Laura's face and yelled at her, demanding to know where his briefcase was located. Linda testified that Laura shouted, "Please don't kill me, don't shoot me." Linda heard a "click." The defendant then jumped over Danny's body and ran out of the store.

There were two witnesses, Kathleen Denwood and David Dyrek, who were shopping in Cermak Plaza on the day of the robbery. After seeing the defendant in the jewelry store with a gun, they ran into the Walgreen's store. The couple asked Nina Beck, a salesclerk at Walgreen's to call the police. Nina ran over to the camera department and told Julie Osisco, a co-worker, to call the police. Nina, David and Kathleen could see into the jewelry store from where they were standing in Walgreen's. Nina testified that she could see the defendant waving his gun back and forth and Linda Manzano putting jewelry into a briefcase. Nina saw what she described as "kind of like a fighting or struggling scene" in the jewelry store. She then heard a "ping" sound and saw that the bottom of the jewelry store door had a hole in it and was cracked. Nina testified that she could see two bodies on the floor of the jewelry store. She saw the defendant leave the store and meet two Berwyn police officers out in front.

Officer Joseph Majchrowicz testified that he was the first one to arrive at the scene of the robbery. According to his testimony, he received a radio dispatch that an alarm was activated at the Empire Jewelry Store in Cermak Plaza. The officer was driving his car in the rear of the plaza when he got the radio message. He pulled his car behind the store and started walking towards it when he heard a second dispatch that there was a robbery in progress in the store. The officer testified that he could see into the store and that he could see the defendant holding a briefcase. He could see four other persons standing behind a counter. Some bystanders came screaming over to him to tell him there was a robbery in progress and that the defendant had a gun. While the officer was advising the bystanders to leave, he heard several shots. The defendant then came running out of the store. Officer Majchrowicz saw the defendant turn around the corner of the building and come towards him. The officer announced that he was a police officer and told the defendant to stop. The defendant stopped in front of the officer and began to take his hand out of his pocket. The officer advised him not to make any sudden moves and to slowly take his hand out of his pocket. The defendant looked around and began running, turning the corner and running westbound through the plaza. The police officer chased the defendant for about 20 feet when he saw another policeman coming from the opposite direction.

Officer O'Leary, responding to the same radio dispatch as Officer Majchrowicz, was running towards the store when he saw the defendant turn the corner. The defendant was carrying a black briefcase. Majchrowicz stopped chasing the defendant when he saw O'Leary, with his gun drawn, running toward the defendant. O'Leary ordered the defendant to stop and put up his hands. The defendant was placed against the window of the jewelry store and he dropped the briefcase. One of the officers patted down the defendant and found a blue steel revolver in his pocket.

After taking the gun from the defendant, O'Leary put it in his pocket. Officer Majchrowicz handcuffed the defendant, and he was taken to O'Leary's squad car, where he was read his rights. O'Leary emptied the defendant's gun and found six spent cartridge casings. After O'Leary read the defendant his rights, the defendant said, "I shot them because they started to fight with me."

Officer Majchrowicz went into the jewelry store while the defendant was taken to O'Leary's car. Majchrowicz saw two males with bullet wounds lying on the floor of the store. Majchrowicz called for two ambulances. Linda Manzano ran towards Majchrowicz from the rear of the store. Majchrowicz tried to calm her down, but he described his efforts as "useless."

Two ambulances came to the scene and both bodies were removed. Many officers and evidence technicians began arriving. Linda Manzano showed Detective Dedek the bullet wound to her stomach. Dedek instructed another officer to take her to the hospital. The police had a difficult time getting her to leave, but they ultimately got her into a police car and took her to MacNeal Hospital.

Detective Dedek went to the rear of the store and saw Laura Landsinger and Joann Rodica. Joann was still hiding under the shelf. Dedek told Laura to be certain Joann was kept in the back of the store until the ambulances left.

When Linda Manzano arrived at MacNeal Hospital, surgery was performed. Doctor Maganini removed a bullet from the upper quadrant of her abdomen and gave it to Detective Bultas. Linda was hospitalized for nine days, but was given permission to attend the wakes of her brother and boyfriend.

After she was released from the hospital, Linda Manzano went to the Berwyn police station to view a lineup. During the viewing, Linda stated, "You killed my brother." The defendant turned and said, "Get that bitch out of here." Linda again said, "You killed my brother." The defendant said, "So what. It should have been your mother."

The information in this case charged the defendant with 18 offenses. The information included six murder charges, two charges of attempted murder, four armed-robbery charges, four aggravated-battery charges, and two armed-violence charges. On the day the trial was scheduled to commence, the State on its own motion moved to nol-pros five counts of the information, one charging attempted murder, two charging aggravated battery, and two charging armed violence. The defendant then was asked whether he wanted a jury trial or a bench trial.

During the colloquy between the trial judge and the defendant prior to his waiving a jury trial, the judge explained that the defendant's decision to waive a jury was one of the most important decisions he would make in his life. The judge asked him if he understood the severity of the charges against him. The defendant said he understood. The defendant then signed a jury waiver in open court.

The jury waiver was followed by a short recess requested by the defendant's attorneys. When court reconvened, defense counsel informed the court that defendant had decided to change his plea to guilty. Defense counsel explained that during the recess the defendant had spoken to his sister and his mother. He also stated that he and his co-counsel had informed the defendant that by pleading guilty the State would probably seek the death penalty. Defense counsel stated:

"* * * But we do feel now, because of the fact, I should say, that those five counts for which we felt there was a defense and for which there were motions which had been heard and denied by this Court and those counts are no longer pending that in regard to the actual guilt or innocence phase of this hearing or of this case there will be — no useful purpose would be served by proceeding with an actual denial of guilt in regard to the pending charges before this Honorable Court.

We have at length, with the Court's permission, advised the defendant of the consequences. We understand it does not preclude in our opinion from the State proceeding in whatever fashion they feel is appropriate but we feel under the circumstances we have no reasonable alternative other than what I have indicated to this Court.

Is that correct, Walter?


The State suggested that the court recess for lunch and take the plea after the lunch period. The trial judge agreed and explained that he wanted to "advise Mr. Stewart of certain possibilities in connection with this case, that he may wish to consider over the lunch hour." The judge advised the defendant that on a plea of guilty in a bench trial, he (the judge) would hear a statement from the prosecutors regarding the facts of the case and that, if the defendant and his lawyers agreed, there would be a finding of guilty and a judgment of guilty on those findings. The judge asked if the defendant understood. The defendant said he did. The judge further explained that the State could seek the death penalty. The judge told the defendant that if the State sought the death penalty it would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was 18 years of age and that there were certain aggravating factors that would qualify him for the imposition of the death penalty. The judge further informed him that he had a right to a jury trial in both stages of the sentencing hearing.

After the lunch recess, the defendant was asked if he still wished to insist in his plea of guilty. The defendant expressed his continued desire to plead guilty.

The State then proceeded in its presentation of the statement of facts. Upon the conclusion of the prosecutor's recital of the factual basis for the guilty plea and the entry of the court's findings of guilty, the State requested a death penalty hearing, at which time the trial judge explained to the defendant that he could have a jury decide on the death sentence. The defendant waived a jury at the sentencing stage of the trial. At the conclusion of the sentencing hearing, the trial judge sentenced the defendant to death for the murders of Danilo Rodica and Thomas Pavlopoulos and two 30-year concurrent prison terms for the attempted murder and armed robbery.


On appeal before this court, the defendant asserts that the guilty-plea proceedings did not comply with the requirements of either due process or our Rule 402 (87 Ill.2d R. 402), since the trial judge allegedly failed to admonish the defendant of the nature of the charges to which he pled guilty, to adequately advise him of the minimum and maximum sentences, and to determine whether his guilty plea was entered voluntarily. The State maintains that, since the trial judge substantially complied with Rule 402, the guilty-plea proceeding did not violate the defendant's right to due process of law.

Rule 402(a) requires substantial compliance with the following in hearings on pleas of guilty:

"(a) Admonitions to Defendant. The court shall not accept a plea of guilty without first, by addressing the defendant personally in open court, informing him of and ...

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