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People v. Silagy





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Vermilion County, the Hon. Paul M. Wright, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied March 30, 1984.

On February 15, 1980, the defendant, Charles Silagy, was arrested in connection with the February 14, 1980, murders of Cheryl Block and Anne Waters in Danville. He was later charged by information in the circuit court of Vermilion County with the commission of both murders. After a jury found him guilty of both crimes, he chose to represent himself at the sentencing hearing, made a confession in open court, and asked that the death penalty be imposed. The jury sentenced him to death, and he requested that the sentence be carried out without delay. The defendant waived the filing of a post-trial motion, but the circuit court appointed counsel to represent him on appeal. The defendant, through his counsel, has appealed directly to this court under the Constitution of Illinois (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, sec. 4(b)) and under our Rule 603 (87 Ill.2d R. 603).

The bodies of Cheryl Block and Anne Waters, who were sisters, were discovered during the morning of February 14, 1980. Both women died as a result of massive hemorrhaging caused by multiple stab wounds. Acting on information supplied by his employer, Silagy was arrested in Louisville, Kentucky, the following day by Louisville police. Officers of the Vermilion County sheriff's office traveled to Louisville to return the defendant to Illinois. While there, they took and recorded a statement from the defendant in which he denied harming the women. The defendant later made another recorded statement.

According to the statements, the defendant, who lived in a trailer with Cheryl Block, his girlfriend, and her sister, Anne Waters, drove them to a male strip show at a local night club on the evening of February 13, 1980. Silagy spent the next two hours at a weekly meeting of the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. He returned later to the club and talked with Rodney DeVaux. (At trial DeVaux testified that Silagy said "that he really didn't think that there was anything wrong [with the girls' attendance at the strip show] and he had no objection to [Cheryl] being there." At one point in the conversation, DeVaux stated, the defendant "was talking about how much he loved this girl and he would not hurt her but that he would kill anybody who messed with her.") After the show ended, the defendant stated, he began to drink and got in an argument with Cheryl and Anne. He was asked to leave the club after slapping beer mugs and a pitcher off the table at which they were sitting. Two witnesses testified that Silagy was very apologetic about this as he left the club. He later returned to the club and offered to pay for the broken glassware. Silagy again argued with both Cheryl and Anne outside the club. DeVaux drove Anne home and Cheryl left with the defendant.

In his first statement at Louisville, Silagy told the police that he drove Cheryl to a different local tavern and left her there. He said he returned home, argued with Anne, and left the trailer without harming her.

In his second statement, the defendant said that he and Cheryl continued to argue as they drove to another tavern. As they did, he began to choke Cheryl. He continued:

"My truck done a spin-around, and killed itself, and I shut it off and started choking her some more, and kept choking her and a car come up from the south, and so I acted like we was making out, and the car was all clear, and I commenced choking her with my left hand, and than I decided I didn't have enough room, so I fought with the door for a little bit, and I got it open from the outside because it will not open from the inside. I had to crank the window down and all this time I still got a hold of her throat.

And so I throwed her out on the ground and I got outta the truck, and I started astomping on her and jumping up and down, on her head, and then I drug her across the road, and she was still breathing, so I took out my pocket knife and opened and pulled her coat and blouse away, and stabbed her approximately five or six times in the chest on the left-hand side and then I left her lay there, and I went back and got into my truck and left."

Silagy then drove home, entered the trailer, locked the door, and started washing his hands and face when Anne knocked at the door. When Anne refused to leave, he "throwed her over toward the TV, and I, throwed her down, and her head hit the coffee table, and I went over, and kicked her a couple of times in the head. Then I proceeded to go to a drawer, to where the utensils were kept and I picked me out a knife that I knew would not bend, and I went back over and snatched her blouse on the left side and yanked it back, and stabbed her four times continuously in the chest."

Silagy quickly left the trailer after packing various personal items. He first drove to a local service station for gas. The attendant testified that the defendant "seemed real friendly, real happy" at the time. He continued on until "I saw some red lights down ahead of me * * * and so I took a side road * * * and went to my mother's house." He had an emotional conversation with his mother, he said, and both were crying when he left a short time later.

While driving towards Paris, Illinois, the defendant stopped "and plotted my route * * * and I asked a trucker * * * if he could give me directions to Louisville, Kentucky, and he did, and I took those instructions."

Robert Block, the defendant's employer, who was not related to Cheryl Block, received a phone call on February 14, 1980, at which the defendant asked that his paycheck be sent to him at a hotel in Louisville. Block gave this information to the local police. When arrested at the hotel by the Louisville police, Silagy was carrying two "ordinary pocket knives." Although very belligerent when first arrested, the defendant, according to the testimony of two detectives who interviewed him, responded to questions in an intelligent manner and did not exhibit any unusual behavior while in custody.

At arraignment, the defendant pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and demanded a jury trial. In various pretrial motions defense counsel requested that the prosecution be barred from asking potential jurors any questions pertaining to the death penalty, that the prosecution be compelled to disclose whether it would seek the death penalty, and that the death penalty statute be declared unconstitutional. The defendant challenged the discretion given the State's Attorney whether to seek the death penalty, the vagueness of the statute's provisions, and the absence of a reasonable-doubt standard regarding mitigating factors. The defendant's motions were denied. Sixty-nine prospective jurors were examined during voir dire and, over the defendant's objection, nine were excused from service for cause after the trial court found that they were unable to impose the death penalty under any circumstances.

At trial, witnesses appeared to support or attack the defendant's defense of insanity. Barbara Lister, the defendant's mother, testified to behavioral problems during his childhood. She testified that he was "very hard to control" and had a bad temper. She recalled episodes when her children were severely beaten by their drunken father at least once a week. After her divorce, the defendant, who was 13 at the time, was taken from his mother's custody because of her sexual promiscuity with a number of men. When Charles returned to her, Mrs. Lister testified that he was very unruly and raped his younger sister and raped the witness herself in 1966 and 1967.

Dr. Marvin Ziporyn, a psychiatrist who was called by the defendant as a witness, testified that he had examined Silagy in June 1980, and earlier in October 1976, concerning an unrelated incident. Based on his 1976 and 1980 examinations, and the defendant's history of physical violence and sexual assault, Dr. Ziporyn formed the opinion that Silagy was "an extremely dangerous individual prone to acts of violence and sexual aggression against women." Ziporyn testified that Silagy suffered from extreme psychopathology, a mental disease he labeled "a psychoneurosis, specifically the subtype known as anxiety reaction or anxiety state," which could be activated by "external stress plus anything that would wipe out control of impulses such as drugs or alcohol." After listing a number of situations and stress factors that might have impaired Silagy's control system on February 14, 1980, Ziporyn concluded that a combination of these factors sent Silagy "off into a temporary psychotic state." He further testified that this condition could have lasted for hours or for as long as a week and consequently it would not be unusual for the defendant to engage in routine behavior after the deaths of the two women. He testified that loss of intellectual function and general awareness was not the issue, "it was a question of impulse control." The witness concluded his testimony by offering the opinion that at the time Cheryl Block and Anne Waters were killed, Silagy lacked the capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law as a result of his mental disease.

Dr. Arthur Traugott, a psychiatrist in private practice who testified for the prosecution, also examined Charles Silagy concerning the events surrounding the deaths of Anne Waters and Cheryl Block. Dr. Traugott testified that from his examination and from background information he was of the opinion that Silagy "was able to appreciate the criminality of his acts" and possessed "the capacity to conform his behavior to society's dictates." Dr. Traugott noted several events which showed that Silagy could conform his behavior to usual standards: his ability to drive was not impaired, he behaved appropriately with the manager of the Club, and he was able to engage in conduct designed to avoid detection. Dr. Traugott concluded that Silagy suffered only from an antisocial personality disorder, which was not a mental disease or defect. According to Dr. Traugott, the phrase "psychoneurotic anxiety state," the term employed by Dr. Ziporyn, was merely another way to describe someone who is anxious.

On cross-examination, Dr. Traugott admitted that past incidents of the defendant's behavior, which occurred in prison and in Vietnam, could have resulted from "reactive psychosis," a psychotic illness, which is triggered by a stressful event in someone's life, that may last for a period of up to two weeks. During the defendant's earlier incarceration, he was once carried screaming from the penitentiary dining room. He said he was taken to the infirmary and given medication. The defendant said he was later unable to recall this episode. The defendant claimed, rather improbably, that he had somehow obtained and destroyed his army medical records and there was no evidence to support his claim that he had a similar experience in Vietnam. Dr. Traugott further testified that something that might not be very stressful to an average person might be stressful enough to create a severe psychiatric episode in a mentally ill person. Dr. Traugott also acknowledged that the defendant told him that "once he had begun his course of action there was nothing that could stop him." But Dr. Traugott explained that this statement must be compared with the actions of the defendant, specifically with the event that, while he was choking Cheryl Block, he was able to pull her into a position to make it appear to an oncoming motorist that they were "making out." Dr. Traugott stated that the defendant's ability to remember the events surrounding the murders was significant because "we do have some evidence of what Mr. Silagy was like when he was psychotic and one medically has to compare his behavior and his memory of the events in question in light of the previous psychotic event."

Dr. Daniel Pugh, a psychiatrist, was appointed by the trial court on the defendant's motion for the purpose of examining the defendant. Based upon information given him, and upon an interview of the defendant, Dr. Pugh's opinion was that Silagy was under alcoholic intoxication at the time Cheryl Block and Anne Waters were killed. Dr. Pugh testified that he was "reasonably certain that Charles Silagy did have a substantial capacity to understand the nature of what he was doing and to conform his conduct to the law," and, although the defendant's intoxication impaired the control of his behavior, he felt the defendant still had a "substantial ability for control left."

On cross-examination, Dr. Pugh indicated that Charles Silagy also had a past history of acute reactive psychosis, a condition in which a person may, for brief periods of time, experience hallucinations, delusions, amnesia or very agitated combative behavior as a direct result of being put under very severe stress. Dr. Pugh recounted two episodes of the defendant's having experienced this psychosis: once while serving in Vietnam and again while he was in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. Dr. Pugh then described the effect that combat duty in Vietnam may have had on the defendant's mental condition. He testified that the defendant had an unusually severe exposure to violence in Vietnam and said he had killed a number of the enemy in very violent ways. Dr. Pugh acknowledged that this exposure might make the defendant quite callous to violence and admitted that the defendant had more trouble controlling his impulses than did most people. In testifying to Silagy's level of control on the night of February 13, 1980, and the early morning of February 14, 1980, Dr. Pugh stated that the defendant "understood the seriousness of the assaults that he was committing." Dr. Pugh again testified that he did not think Silagy was suffering from a reactive psychosis on February 13th and 14th of 1980 because the defendant "did not have psychotic symptoms at that time; he was not hallucinating, he was not imagining things, he was not helpless to think or do things and he remembered things that happened although his memory was somewhat fuzzy."

The defendant has advanced several constitutional objections to the death penalty statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 9-1). Some of these have been rejected by this court in recent decisions and the defendant has not offered any convincing reasons to depart from those holdings. We have held that the statute is not unconstitutional in permitting the jury to consider non-statutory aggravating factors during the second phase of the sentencing proceeding. (People v. Williams (1983), 97 Ill.2d 252; People v. Davis (1983), 95 Ill.2d 1, 38; People v. Free (1983), 94 Ill.2d 378, 427.) We have also held that there is no constitutional violation in that the death penalty statute does not require the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the absence of mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of that penalty. (People v. Garcia (1983), 97 Ill.2d 58, 80-81; People v. Free (1983), 94 Ill.2d 378, 421.) This court has rejected, too, the contention that the sentencing scheme in the statute is defective in that it fails to provide for the comparative review of capital cases (People v. Williams (1983), 97 Ill.2d 252, 266; People v. Kubat (1983), 94 Ill.2d 437, 502-04), and we have judged that the grant of discretion to the prosecutor in asking for the death penalty is not constitutionally improper (People v. Davis (1983), 95 Ill.2d 1, 22; People v. Szabo (1983), 94 Ill.2d 327, 351; People ex rel. Carey v. Cousins (1979), 77 Ill.2d 531).

We do not find the defendant's other constitutional complaints against the statute convincing. He contends that the statute is unconstitutional in failing to require the prosecutor to disclose before trial an intention to seek the death penalty and that his right to the effective assistance of counsel was denied by this refusal of the State to disclose its intention after being asked by the defendant. The defendant says that his ignorance of the State's intention was prejudicial to him, because his counsel may have been unwilling to rely on the insanity defense if he had known that the same jury deciding guilt would be deciding whether to impose the death penalty. Counsel might have been unwilling to rely on the insanity defense, he says, because in so doing they had to introduce evidence of his violent background, which could have influenced the jury at the sentencing stage.

A similar argument was advanced and rejected in People v. Gaines (1981), 88 Ill.2d 342, 369. There, the defendant claimed that the omission in the death penalty statute of a requirement that the State disclose before trial its intention to seek the death penalty denied him the right to the effective assistance of counsel because that omission impaired the defendant's ability to decide whether to bargain for a negotiated plea and whether to demand or waive trial by jury. We held that to require that the State disclose its intention prior to trial would defeat the prosecutor's informed exercise of his discretion in requesting the penalty. We noted, too, that the defendant had not been misled into believing that the State would not ask for the death penalty, that defense counsel had assumed the State would do so, and that the fact that the indictment charged him with the commission of multiple murders and with murder in the course of another felony informed him that he could potentially be sentenced to death.

Here, as in Gaines, the defense was aware that the defendant could be sentenced to death, because otherwise there would not have been a request to the State to disclose its intention. We are not persuaded by the defendant's attempt to show that he was prejudiced by the State's not stating its intention. He does not contend that his attorneys declined to introduce relevant evidence at trial for fear of its possible misuse at a later sentencing hearing, and the defendant had not objected to having the jury that decided guilt also decide whether to impose the death penalty.

The defendant also challenges the statute on the ground of vagueness. The jurors were instructed that, in considering mitigating factors, they should consider the possible applicability of section 9-1(c)(2) of the Criminal Code of 1961, which sets out as a mitigating factor that "the murder was committed while the defendant was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance, although not such as to constitute a defense to prosecution" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 9-1(c)(2)). The defendant says that the lack of definition in the statute of the phrase "extreme mental or emotional disturbance" renders the statute unconstitutionally vague and lacking in the guidance for the jury made necessary by the eighth amendment (U.S. Const. amend. VIII).

Courts> in other jurisdictions where the same mitigating factor appears in their statutes have dismissed similar claims of unconstitutional vagueness. (State v. Dixon (Fla. 1973), 283 So.2d 1, 10; State v. Holtan (1977), 197 Neb. 544, 548, 250 N.W.2d 876, 880.) We are in agreement with those holdings.

The challenge to the mitigating factor here as being vague is not unlike the challenge to the mitigating factor in section 9-1(c)(1), which this court considered in People v. Lewis (1981), 88 Ill.2d 129. It was contended there that the mitigating factor of the absence of a "significant history of prior criminal activity" was unconstitutionally vague. The contention was rejected, this court holding that the statutory language was a permissible means of calling the jury's attention to the absence of significant criminal convictions, and that mitigating factors need not be set out in the statute with the precision required for aggravating factors.

The defendant's final challenge to the statute is that the language of the mitigating factor we have just discussed, that the defendant was acting under the influence of "extreme mental or emotional disturbance," limits in an unconstitutional fashion consideration of a defendant's impaired mental state causing mental or emotional disturbance that is not "extreme." He cites Eddings v. Oklahoma (1982), 455 U.S. 104, 71 L.Ed.2d 1, 102 S.Ct. 869, which held that a State cannot as a matter of law prohibit the consideration of any relevant mitigating evidence, and Lockett v. Ohio (1978), 438 U.S. 586, 57 L.Ed.2d 973, 98 S.Ct. 2954, which held that a death penalty statute must allow the sentencing body to consider in mitigation any aspects of the defendant's character or record, and any of the circumstances of the offense the defendant points to in mitigation. The defendant says, on the basis of those decisions, that the jury must be permitted to consider evidence of any type of mental disturbance, extreme or otherwise, in determining the existence of a mitigating factor sufficient to preclude imposition of the death penalty.

The fallacy of the argument is that an accused is not limited as this defendant claims. The defendant is simply wrong in saying that the statute precludes consideration of any mental distress less than extreme. He overlooks that, while the act lists five mitigating factors, one of which is "extreme mental or emotional disturbance," the statute also provides in listing these factors: "Mitigating factors may include but need not be limited to the following [factors]." (Emphasis added.) Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 9-1(c).

The court instructed the jury in accordance with that provision. It told the jury that mitigating factors may include extreme mental or emotional disturbance or "any other facts or circumstances that provide reasons for imposing less than the most severe sentence." It appears from the record that the only reason the jury would not have considered any disturbance less than extreme disturbance was because of the defendant's own failure to argue that he was acting under the influence of such a disturbance. He told the jury, in fact, that he agreed with the prosecutor's argument that at the time of the killing he was not acting under extreme emotional distress and urged the jurors to "put out of your mind[s]" the psychiatric testimony that had been offered in his behalf.

The defendant makes a number of claims of error occurring in the voir dire. These points, however, have been decided adversely to him in recent decisions of this court and need not be discussed at great length. We have held that the qualification of jurors under Witherspoon v. Illinois (1968), 391 U.S. 510, 20 L.Ed.2d 776, 88 S.Ct. 1770, according to which prospective jurors may be excused for cause if their views on the death penalty would require them to automatically vote against the imposition of that penalty regardless of the evidence, does not deny the defendant his right to a jury chosen from a fair cross section of the community. See People v. Free (1983), 94 Ill.2d 378, 400-01.

We have consistently rejected, too, the contention that the examination of jurors pursuant to Witherspoon results in a conviction-prone jury. (People v. Tiller (1982), 94 Ill.2d 303, 322; People v. Gaines (1981), 88 Ill.2d 342, 358.) The defendant asks that this court make an exception, though, in cases where the defense relies upon the insanity defense. He cites simply Bronson, On the Conviction Proneness and Representativeness of the Death-Qualified Jury: An Empirical Study of Colorado Veniremen, 42 U. Colo. L. Rev. 1 (1970). This study was also presented in People v. Carlson (1980), 79 Ill.2d 564, 586, where this court rejected as gratuitous the argument that a jury without scruples against capital punishment would be unfairly biased against finding an accused to be sane.

The defendant also challenges the exclusion of one of the prospective jurors as having been erroneous under Witherspoon. As stated, Witherspoon permits the exclusion for cause of a venireman who makes it clear that his views on capital punishment are so fixed that he would vote against the imposition of the death penalty regardless of the evidence. Witherspoon does not permit, however, the exclusion of prospective jurors for cause because they express only general objections to or qualms regarding the death penalty.

The defendant says that the circuit court violated the holding in Witherspoon by excusing Mrs. June Clemmons, a prospective juror. The relevant part of the examination of Mrs. Clemmons was:

"THE COURT: I want to ask you a question as to your attitude towards the death penalty. Are your feelings towards the death penalty such that you could not vote to impose a death penalty under any circumstances regardless of the evidence presented?

A: I don't know how to say yes or no. I don't know if I actually could. I don't really believe someone should be killed, you know.

Q: Would you vote not to impose the death penalty regardless of the circumstances, under any circumstances, regardless of the evidence?

A: I would say yes.

Q: In other words, you could never vote to impose the death penalty under any circumstances?

A: No, I don't think I could.

Q: Regardless?

A: I don't think so.

THE COURT: Excuse this juror for cause?


DEFENSE COUNSEL [outside the hearing of the jury]: We would object to the excusal [sic] of this witness for cause on grounds previously stated for the other three jurors who were excused for cause because of ...

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