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10/15/87 the People of the State of v. Charles Wright

October 15, 1987





514 N.E.2d 817, 161 Ill. App. 3d 967, 113 Ill. Dec. 35

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County; the Hon. John E. Sype, Judge, presiding. 1987.IL.1543


JUSTICE HOPF delivered the opinion of the court. DUNN and NASH, JJ., concur.


Following a bench trial, defendant, Charles Wright, was convicted on two counts of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a)(1), (a)(3)). Defendant appeals his conviction for murder and his sentence of natural life imprisonment, contending: (1) that the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion to suppress his July 23, 1985, statement to the police; (2) that defendant's January 2, 1986, handwritten confession and ensuing statement to police, after defendant had been appointed counsel, should have been suppressed; and (3) that defendant's term of natural life imprisonment was improper.

The evidence adduced at trial showed that on the morning of July 18, 1985, the body of Florence Dobson, 71 years of age, was found in her rural farmhouse located on Forrest Preserve Road in Winnebago County. Mrs. Dobson, a widow, resided alone. Her body bore numerous chop wounds from a sharp, heavy instrument in the head, neck, and trunk areas. The examining pathologist testified that the body bore evidence of more than 15 separate chop wounds.

Winnebago County sheriff's police arrested the defendant after it determined that he and codefendant, Frank Fernandez, had been in the area of the homicide and were known to have possessed items stolen from the victim's house during the course of the crime. At the time of defendant's arrest, officers found in his apartment the television set stolen from the victim. Karen Darling, the defendant's girlfriend, testified to defendant's possession of a stereo cassette player "boom box" immediately following the homicide. Darling stated that defendant took the boom box to a home in rural Winnebago County where he sold it for a quantity of marijuana. The boom box was recovered by police and identified by the victim's son as belonging to the victim.

Following the defendant's arrest, he furnished a written statement to police on July 23, 1985, admitting participation in the burglary but blaming Fernandez for inflicting the fatal injuries to Mrs. Dobson. Five months later, on January 2, 1986, the defendant summoned Detective Richard Sweet of the sheriff's department and gave him a handwritten signed confession in which defendant admitted he was responsible for killing Mrs. Dobson. In a more detailed typewritten rendition of his handwritten statement, defendant admitted that he initially suggested to Fernandez the idea of a break-in at Mrs. Dobson's home. Defendant stated that he told Fernandez in advance of the break-in that because Mrs. Dobson knew defendant, he would have to kill her during the course of the crime. He stated, "I told Franko [Fernandez] that I was going to stab her."

In his statement defendant further admitted that, after entering Mrs. Dobson's home, he stabbed her in the back as she slept in her bed. Defendant stated that Mrs. Dobson got out of bed, and then he used a hatchet to inflict numerous chop wounds to her head and body. During the killing, Mrs. Dobson pleaded with defendant for her life. In his handwritten statement defendant stated that he killed Mrs. Dobson "just for the pleasure of killing her."

Following the attack on Mrs. Dobson, defendant related that he placed the stolen automobile, which he had driven to the premises, in a pond behind the farmhouse. A search of that automobile revealed a hatchet which, according to laboratory testimony, had traces of blood and hair consistent with the victim's hair imbedded on the blade.

At trial defendant's defense consisted of testimony by two psychiatrists, Dr. Anthony D'Souza and Dr. Donald MacLean, and a psychologist, Dr. Frederick McNelly. The testimony of the psychiatrists indicated that defendant was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia but that the disease did not render the defendant unable to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. Dr. McNelly concluded that defendant's judgment was affected at the time of his offense, although defendant could conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.

In rebuttal, the State called Dr. Donald Pearson, a psychologist, who diagnosed the defendant as suffering from a character disorder which affected and impaired his judgment as well as impaired his thinking and his relationship with other people. Pearson opined that at the time of the offense defendant was legally sane and did not lack the substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct. Pearson related that out of a battery of tests he had administered to defendant, five were designed to disclose deliberate faking of intellectual insufficiencies or poor insights. From these tests Pearson concluded that defendant was fabricating a great deal of his responses.

At the Conclusion of the trial, the court found defendant guilty of murder as charged in count I, intent murder, and count II, felony murder, and entered judgment on both counts. At a subsequent sentencing hearing, evidence in aggravation was presented in the form of testimony regarding defendant's involvement in a prior abduction and shooting in Rockford. In mitigation, defendant presented testimony to show that he was a loner and a follower, that he had been a drug user since 8th or 9th grade and had been high on the day of the offense, that he believed his family hated him, that he could never do anything right in his stepfather's eyes, and that he had been hospitalized in the psychiatric wing of Swedish American Hospital when he was about 12.

Following arguments by counsel, the court commented on the brutal conduct of defendant's act and the fact that the act was planned ahead of time. Although the court stated that defendant's act was the type which qualified a defendant for the death penalty, the court also stated that it had considered the mitigating factors of defendant's youth, allegedly brutal childhood, drug and alcohol abuse, and recent display of criminality to conclude that defendant should be sentenced to a term of natural life imprisonment. This appeal ensued.

Defendant first contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress his July 23 statement to police because the statement was the product of police misrepresentations that the defendant's fingerprints had been found at the scene and that a codefendant had identified the defendant as having inflicted the fatal blows. It is defendant's position that his statement was obtained by trickery or deceit and that such tactics ...

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