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People v. Palmer





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. Lawrence D. Inglis, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied February 5, 1986.

After trial by jury defendant, Steven F. Palmer, was found guilty, but mentally ill, of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(1)) and of armed violence (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 33A-2). He was sentenced to an extended term of natural life imprisonment for murder and appeals, contending (1) the State failed to prove defendant sane beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) the court erred in its instructions as to insanity, and (3) in giving an instruction which defined mental illness; and (4) that the court abused its discretion in imposing a sentence for a term of defendant's natural life.

It is undisputed that on December 28, 1983, defendant who was then approximately 32 years of age, stabbed 14-year-old Timothy Degan in the back and neck as they stood in line at a McDonald's restaurant in Waukegan, causing his death. An employee of the restaurant testified that at 1:25 p.m. he observed defendant exchange words with Degan, and defendant then seized Degan by the neck and took him towards the door, where defendant stabbed the boy and ran outside. Another employee testified he saw defendant overpower Degan and recognized defendant as a person who had argued with another customer two or three months earlier.

After the stabbing, defendant ran to a bowling alley two doors away carrying the knife in his hand. He was mumbling that "she kicked me" and went into the pool room where he slashed table covers and threw bottles and pool balls against the wall. Defendant yelled obscenities and "come on Waukegan, here I am, come and get me." When the police arrived defendant dropped the knife and was cooperative; he did not appear to the police to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and told them he had "cut a kid at McDonald's."

At the police station, defendant was advised of his Miranda rights and waived them. Defendant told the officers that he had been in the same McDonald's restaurant two weeks earlier when a little girl had kicked him and her mother did nothing about it. He was still angry about the incident when Degan, a young, white male, bumped defendant with his elbow, gave him a dirty look and a finger. Defendant stated he took his knife from his pocket and stabbed the boy in the neck then ran to the bowling alley. There, defendant saw two little girls and felt like killing them.

In a second statement later that day defendant told the officers that he knew he had done something wrong in stabbing the boy and that he had always done wrong. Defendant related that he had been in the Navy once for nine months, but was dismissed for fighting. He gave his life history, naming the schools attended, where the family had lived and the names and ages of his parents and three sisters. The officers testified defendant appeared normal and did not seem to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Defendant's father testified in trial that defendant's behavior was normal until age 17. At that time a high school track coach called advising that defendant was running aimlessly around the track and the coach thought he had problems. The parents took defendant to a Joliet psychiatrist, who diagnosed adolescent schizophrenia and advised medication and regular therapy. In 1969, when the family moved to Iowa, defendant was regularly treated by private psychiatrists. The father described how defendant would become angry for no apparent reason and would wash his hands 30 or 40 times daily with kitchen cleanser, sprinkling it all over the bathroom. Defendant smashed a window in the family car, later stating he did not know why he got mad. Defendant told his father he heard voices and he would at times talk incoherently about things. He was eventually placed in the Pine Knoll Mental Health Center in Davenport, where defendant remained for a year as an inpatient.

The family returned to Illinois in 1973, where defendant was employed for brief periods. In 1975 defendant joined the Navy, where he served for 11 months until being discharged for fighting; psychiatrists who examined him then said defendant had a nervous breakdown. Defendant did not inform his parents of his discharge from the Navy, and they next heard from a sheriff in Missouri who advised them that defendant had been walking aimlessly down the highway and the sheriff had put him on a bus to the Veterans' Administration hospital in Iowa City. The father went there and was advised by Dr. Jerry Lewis, a psychiatrist, that defendant had paranoid schizophrenia. He was given medication and treated for six weeks, then transferred to the Veteran's Administration hospital in North Chicago where defendant was treated for nine months. Defendant returned home for a time then moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he lived by himself for several months; he also spent several months in the Veterans' Administration hospital at Leavenworth as a patient. Defendant again returned home for a time, then went to New York where, in 1980, he was arrested and committed to Bellevue Hospital for 90 days. Defendant returned home for a period, during which time he heard voices from the radio and television talking to him. He was on medication and being treated then as an outpatient of the Veterans' Administration hospital. Defendant's father often drove him to the hospital, at defendant's request, when he felt upset. Defendant would be suspicious of everyone, stare at people and was very nervous. He could usually carry on a conversation when in that condition and mood changes would come on sometimes instantly, lasting minutes or perhaps a few hours.

In 1983, when defendant was living in his own apartment, he called his father, requesting to be taken to the Veterans' Administration hospital. Defendant looked very nervous and upset, and, without having said anything, he attacked his father as they were driving. The father's glasses were broken and his shirt ripped off; he got away and called the police from the hospital. Shortly thereafter defendant appeared at the hospital, where he was committed for three or four days.

During 1982 and 1983, defendant was still under medication and would be upset and nasty when he had not taken it. The father sought to have defendant committed for inpatient treatment on several occasions, and he would be held for 90 days, then released. Within the year before trial, defendant was in court on another matter when he threw a book at the judge, hitting him. He also was in an altercation at the McDonald's restaurant where he kicked over garbage cans. The father attempted to restrain defendant, but he broke away and struck a man. The police arrived and defendant surrendered without a struggle.

The father also testified defendant had been arrested on a number of occasions since his teenage years because of his "acting up"; he also had tried cocaine and LSD in 1970, and marijuana later. In the year prior to trial, defendant was being treated as an outpatient at Downey Veterans Hospital, where he would receive a shot of Prolixin every two weeks. The father at one time procured a restraining order in an effort to keep defendant away from the parents, who were afraid to have him in the house. Over the years defendant had been diagnosed as having schizophrenia, immature personality, narcissistic and antisocial behavior problems by various doctors.

Officer Ed Davis of the Waukegan police department testified that on October 19, 1981, he interviewed defendant relating to an assault on a customer in a restaurant by defendant with a drinking glass. Defendant told him a black man walked in and began smiling and defendant struck him in the head with the glass. When asked why he had done so, defendant replied he hated blacks since being in the Navy as they had messed with his forehead and defendant felt that his brains were coming out of his mind. Defendant was cooperative in the interview, answering the officer's questions and following directions. The witness also described another interview with defendant on December 5, 1981, relating to an incident in Gojo's Restaurant when defendant had threatened customers with a hatchet. Defendant stated he went to the restaurant to get coffee, and when he saw a black woman inside he threatened her with a hatchet he was carrying and also chased other black customers, who ran from the restaurant. Police officers arrived and defendant was arrested; he was cooperative in the interview. The officer also testified that after the incident in October 1981, he signed papers in the State's Attorney's office to cause defendant's commitment as a mentally ill person. Defendant was committed to the Elgin State Hospital on October 23 and released on November 2.

Defendant presented the testimony of three expert witnesses. Dr. Jang-June Chen, a psychiatrist, treated defendant at the North Chicago Veterans' Administration hospital from May 1982 through December 1983, and last saw him on December 15, 1983. Defendant was hospitalized under Dr. Chen's care ...

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