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People v. Taylor





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Third District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County, the Hon. Robert E. Manning, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Alan R. Taylor, was convicted in the circuit court of Peoria County of felony murder and armed robbery and sentenced to concurrent terms of 35 and 30 years, respectively. The appellate court reversed the conviction on the ground that the trial court's denial of defendant's motion for a change of venue because of prejudicial pretrial publicity deprived the defendant of trial by a fair and impartial jury and remanded for a new trial outside the range of Peoria publicity. (113 Ill. App.3d 467, 472-73, 478.) The People appealed, and the defendant appealed as well from that portion of the decision affirming the transfer order from the juvenile court and denying his motion to suppress statements. We allowed both appeals and consolidated them. 87 Ill.2d R. 315.

On December 6, 1980, the cash register at the Zip-Tone Cleaners in Peoria was looted and 17-year-old Lisa Conn, who was in charge of the business, was found dead of knife wounds. The crime received extensive news coverage in two area newspapers, as well as daily attention from radio and television stations. Posters announcing a reward of approximately $20,000 were displayed throughout the area. The investigation was so extensive that it was moved from Peoria police headquarters to larger quarters at a local YMCA.

At the time of the murder, Taylor was 13 years old and had no police or juvenile record. He resided with Rebecca and David Rushing, his mother and his stepfather, a few blocks from the Zip-Tone. The defendant was questioned by Peoria police on December 18 and December 28, 1980, at which time he denied any involvement in the incident.

On February 7, 1981, at Detective Robert Crady's request, Mr. Rushing brought the defendant to the investigation headquarters at the YMCA where the defendant was questioned by Detectives Crady and Larry Layman for approximately four and one-half hours. The defendant was given Miranda warnings before questioning began, and Mr. Rushing was present during some of the questioning. On February 14, at Crady's request, Mr. Rushing again brought the defendant for questioning at the YMCA. The pair arrived at approximately 1:10 p.m., and, by approximately 5:30, the defendant had given an oral statement implicating himself in the murder. After dinner, Detective Crady and a secretary prepared a written statement which the defendant read, corrected, initialed and signed. The session ended at approximately 9:30 p.m., when the defendant was taken into custody.

In his statement, Taylor said that he and 16-year-old Jon Gaskins were walking with a 12-year-old boy when he and Gaskins decided to go into the Zip-Tone to get some money. Gaskins went into the back room and asked Lisa for money. When she refused, Gaskins told Taylor to stand behind Lisa. Both boys had knives, and Taylor held his to Lisa's throat. She cut her neck on Taylor's knife as she struggled. She then kicked Gaskins, who stabbed her repeatedly with his knife. Gaskins took money from the cash register and gave some to Taylor. The two boys ran.

As a result of Taylor's statement, delinquency petitions were filed against both Taylor and Gaskins. The People's motion to transfer the case from juvenile court and to try Taylor as an adult was granted. Shortly after Gaskins was given a lie detector test, charges against him were dropped for insufficient evidence. The defendant's motion to suppress his oral and written statements of February 7 and 14 was denied.

The defendant has consistently maintained that extraordinary publicity prevented him from receiving a fair trial. When the defendant's request for funds to conduct a professional public opinion survey was denied, his attorney organized volunteers to survey passersby at an area shopping mall. The results were appended to the defendant's motion for a change of venue.

The public opinion survey included registered voters in Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford Counties. Of the 382 Peoria County voters surveyed, 378 had heard of the case, including 188 who had heard of it often, and 122 who had heard of it many times. Sixty-one percent of those polled could state the defendant's exact age, and many others knew he was under 16. Seventy-two percent believed that the police had arrested the right person, and 53 percent believed that the defendant was guilty.

Before jury selection began, the trial judge denied the motion for a change of venue, expressed his belief that an unbiased jury could be obtained in Peoria County through exhaustive voir dire, and advised counsel that a motion for change of place of trial could be made after jury selection. During voir dire, many of the defendant's challenges for cause based on prospective jurors' knowledge of inadmissible and highly prejudicial details of the investigation were denied, as were a defense motion for additional peremptory challenges due to the extensive public knowledge of the case and a renewed motion for change of place of trial due to sworn jurors' knowledge of inadmissible and highly prejudicial information. Defendant exhausted all of his peremptory challenges.

Media coverage of this case in Peoria and the surrounding communities was unprecedented. An affidavit from the manager of one of the Peoria radio stations called this the most widely publicized case he had seen in Peoria. Detailed coverage began on the day of the crime, and the progress of the police investigation, the juvenile court proceedings, the hearing, voir dire, and trial in the adult division were all fully and closely reported. Repeated references were made to the defendant by name and to the original co-defendant, Jon Gaskins. Details of Taylor's February 14th statement were reported, including that he was standing behind Lisa, her "accidental" contact with his knife, and the alleged stabbings in the stomach by Gaskins. Gaskins' release was extensively reported, along with the information that, while the State's Attorney's office would say only that there was insufficient evidence, Gaskins' attorney announced that Gaskins was released after he passed a lie detector test. At the same time, it was reported that Taylor also took a lie detector test with inconclusive results. One newspaper article went so far as to say that Taylor took a polygraph exam a few weeks after the murder and "he did not pass," but Gaskins took a similar test and "passed on every important question." In another article, Taylor's confession and his inconclusive lie detector results were both mentioned. Still another article referred to Taylor as the individual "who actually stabbed and slashed Lisa Conn to death."

On appeal to this court, defendant suggests that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to transfer this case to the adult division since notice was not provided to the minor's natural father. We do not find this contention persuasive because notice was properly provided to the custodial parent, the mother. The mother and especially the stepfather were actively involved in the police investigation and questioning of Taylor. There is no indication in the record that Taylor's natural father had shown any interest in his care or well being for many years preceding the transfer hearing.

The Juvenile Court Act provides that the clerk of the court must issue a summons to a minor against whom a delinquency petition has been filed and to each respondent named in the petition to appear and answer the petition. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 37, par. 704-3.) The natural parent must be named as a respondent. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 37, par. 704-1.) Provision is made for personal service, service by registered mail or by publication. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 37, pars. 704-3, 704-4.) In this case, no service was attempted on Taylor's natural father.

This court has previously held that failure to provide notice to an absent parent is not always jurisdictional. (In re J.W. (1981), 87 Ill.2d 56.) The statute provides that publication notice to the absent parent is not required "when the person alleged to have legal custody of the minor has been served with summons personally or by certified mail, but the court may not issue any order or judgment against any person who cannot be served with process other than by publication unless notice by publication is given or unless that person appears." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 37, par. 704-4(2).) In this case, the court was not trying to, nor did it, issue any order or judgment against the absent natural father. That father's rights were not adjudicated or affected in any way by the adjudication of the delinquency petition against Taylor. Therefore, ...

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