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People v. Milner





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County; the Hon. Peter J. Paolucci, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Thomas C. Milner, appeals following a jury trial in the circuit court of Peoria County which returned verdicts of guilty for the offenses of murder, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated battery of a child and concealment of a homicide. Judgment of conviction was entered for murder and the defendant was sentenced to an extended term of imprisonment for 46 years. A consecutive sentence of five years was imposed for the offense of concealment of a homicide.

The issues presented for review include allegations that: (1) the trial court erred in refusing to suppress defendant's confession; (2) that evidence of uncharged crimes was improperly admitted over defendant's objection; (3) that the evidence was insufficient to prove the corpus delicti beyond a reasonable doubt; (4) that defendant's statement to the police admitting that his son's death may have resulted from a criminal act was not corroborated by sufficient independent proof of the corpus delicti; (5) that the defendant was improperly sentenced for murder since the jury's finding of guilt for involuntary manslaughter negated the required mental state for murder; (6) that defendant's conviction for murder must be reversed since it was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant knew his acts created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm; and (7) that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the issue of negligence.

The evidence indicated that on December 9, 1982, at approximately 7 p.m., several police officers went to an apartment occupied by Annette Robinson and the defendant. Ms. Robinson, the defendant and three children were at home. The police remained in the apartment until approximately 8:30 p.m. when they arrested Ms. Robinson and took her to the police station. The children were placed in protective custody.

While at the apartment the police searched for, but failed to locate, the defendant's son, Shamar Milner. At one point the defendant attempted to leave to purchase medicine but the police told him it would be best if he remained in the apartment. The defendant was not taken into custody but was asked to come to the police station. The police left the defendant in the apartment after he told them that he would come to the station later.

At approximately 9 p.m. the defendant arrived at the rear door of the police station carrying a duffel bag. The defendant indicated that the bag contained his son, Shamar. The coroner subsequently examined the bag and found the body of a badly decomposed infant. The defendant was read his Miranda rights, and he agreed to talk to the police.

The defendant was taken to an interview room and questioned for 35 minutes. He then accompanied the police back to his apartment and showed them a demolished building where he initially had placed his dead son.

The defendant and the police returned to the station where he agreed to make a written statement which began at 11:13 p.m. At 12:06 a.m. the statement was interrupted when the defendant stated that he was tired and could not answer any more questions. The defendant became emotional and started to cry.

Specifically, the colloquy was as follows:

"Q. Why did you leave [the apartment]?

A. Couldn't leave him outside.

Q. Couldn't leave who outside?

A. I'm tired, I can't answer no more. I couldn't leave my son outside."

The police told the defendant that they would take a break to allow him to compose himself. During the break there was general conversation, the defendant was permitted to relax and was offered coffee and cigarettes. The defendant was also left alone for a few minutes.

At approximately 12:15 a.m. the police and their stenographer returned to the interrogation room and the defendant was asked if he felt up to going on with his statement. The defendant replied that he was willing to do so, and he was told that his rights were still in effect.

The interrogation resumed and the defendant was questioned until 12:52 a.m. At this point the police conferred with legal counsel and allowed the defendant to read over his statement.

At 2:21 a.m. the interrogation resumed after the defendant said he felt up to answering a few more questions. The defendant was again told that his rights were still in effect and could be exercised at any time. He was questioned until 2:36 a.m.

The defendant's statement indicated that around October 15, 1982, he had been trying to teach his 15-month-old son, Shamar, to stand. When the defendant's initial efforts failed, he tied Shamar to a board to teach him to stand upright. The child began to cry at being restrained so the defendant untied him. However, when the child continued to cry the defendant became angry and shook him two or three times, the last two shakes being hard. The child was then put to bed. During the night the defendant discovered that his son had a fever so he gave him a cool bath and put him back to bed. In the morning the defendant checked his son's condition and he was dead. The defendant did not tell anyone. He dressed the child and wrapped him in a blanket. He told the child's mother that he was taking him to his mother's house.

The defendant took his son's body to an abandoned building where he laid him down and undressed him. He then burned the child's clothing. However, three or four days later the defendant recovered the body and brought it back to the apartment where it remained in a bag on a shelf in the bathroom until the police arrived December 9. In the interim the defendant burned incense to mask the odor.

An autopsy indicated there were no signs of trauma, but due to the degree of decomposition, no cause of death could be found. The coroner's physician testified that a child of Shamar's age could be killed by shaking; however, there were other possible causes of death as well.

Evidence of defendant's involvement in what were believed to be other offenses was then admitted over defendant's objection. Specifically, evidence was elicited which indicated that Shamar's twin sister had suffered a fractured arm and knees in 1981. The defendant had given the police a statement that another child had jumped off a window ledge onto Tamara, Shamar's twin ...

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