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01/25/88 the People of the State of v. Darryl Simms

January 25, 1988

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE

v.

DARRYL SIMMS, APPELLANT



SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS

520 N.E.2d 308, 121 Ill. 2d 259, 117 Ill. Dec. 147 1988.IL.65

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County, the Hon. John J. Bowman, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE SIMON delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE MILLER, specially Concurring. MORAN, C.J. and WARD, J., join in this special concurrence.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE SIMON

After a bench trial in the circuit court of Du Page County, the defendant, Darryl Simms, was found guilty of murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)), aggravated criminal sexual assault (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 12-14(a)), criminal sexual assault (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 12-13(a)), armed robbery (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 18-2), home invasion (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 12-11(a)) and residential burglary (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 19-3(a)). Defendant continued to waive his right to a jury in the sentencing phase, and the circuit Judge found the defendant eligible for the death penalty on the basis of multiple felony-murder convictions (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 9-1(b)(6)). Finding no mitigating factor sufficient to preclude imposition of the death penalty, the Judge sentenced the defendant to death. That sentence was stayed pending direct appeal to this court. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 107 Ill. 2d R. 603.

The victim, Lillian LaCrosse, was a 25-year-old woman who lived with her husband and three children, ages 2, 3 and 4, in a second-floor apartment in Addison, Illinois. On the evening of April 17, 1985, the electricity for the building had failed, and at about 9:30 p.m., Commonwealth Edison personnel arrived to work in the area outside of the victim's apartment. Until about 1:45, the apartment building was dark except for dim emergency lights in the hallways.

Because the victim's husband, Richard LaCrosse, had gone to work at 10 p.m., the victim was alone with her children during this blackout. When Mr. LaCrosse returned home at about 7:30 a.m., he found his children crying in their bedroom, the phone off the hook in the kitchen, and his wife's dead body on the dining-room floor. She had been stabbed at least 25 times in the ear, shoulder, throat, chest, arms and back. A pathologist testified that the wounds indicated that two different weapons were used, that the victim had also been strangled, and that the cause of death was exsanguination, or loss of blood. The victim's underwear had been removed, and evidence of sperm from the vaginal smear and expert testimony indicated that someone other than Richard LaCrosse had engaged in sexual intercourse with the victim. There was also evidence presented at trial that the dresser drawer in the bedroom had been disturbed and that the victim's purse, a movie camera and a pair of jeans were missing.

The police investigation quickly focused on the defendant. In addition to receiving two anonymous telephone calls and hearing from Mr. LaCrosse that the defendant had been "harassing" the victim and asking her for dates, the police tracked a trail of blood from the back door of the LaCrosse apartment to the apartment in the adjoining building in which the defendant lived. In the early morning hours of April 19, the defendant's mother, Olivia Simms, and brother, Sherrod Simms, told the police that the defendant was staying at a family friend's house in Streamwood. The police obtained an arrest warrant for the defendant and executed a search warrant for his Addison apartment. The police found blood in the defendant's apartment and took a pair of jeans with blood stains on the right thigh area. The defendant was arrested at 4:30 a.m. outside his friend's house in Streamwood.

Officer Tom Gorniak testified that the defendant offered three different accounts of his actions during the early morning hours of April 18. When Gorniak asked the defendant how he had gotten a cut on his right thigh, the defendant explained that he had cut himself while cutting potatoes. After Gorniak told the defendant that he thought this explanation was unlikely, the defendant said that he had actually been stabbed during a fight in Chicago. Then, after Gorniak informed the defendant that Sherrod Simms had told police that Darryl had stabbed the victim and that blood had been found in Simms' apartment, the defendant said he would tell the truth.

In a statement that was reviewed twice in the presence of either another officer or the State's Attorney, the defendant admitted killing Mrs. LaCrosse, but claimed that he acted in self-defense. The defendant's story was that he had been having an affair with Mrs. LaCrosse and that they had had sexual intercourse 18 to 20 times in the past month, the last time during the afternoon of April 17. Defendant told Gorniak that he had gone to Mrs. LaCrosse's apartment at around midnight after she called to him from her balcony. Defendant stated that after the victim let him into the apartment, he fondled the victim, and that Mrs. LaCrosse became upset when he told her he had to leave. He explained that after he had telephoned his mother to tell her he was on his way to her home in Bellwood, the victim stabbed him in the leg with a knife. In struggling with her, he stabbed her in the neck. When the victim screamed, he choked the victim until she was unconscious. He also told Officer Gorniak that he had tried to remove her clothing and wipe her with a towel in order to remove any fingerprints. And because he realized he would go to jail for a "long time" if he was identified and convicted of attempted murder, the defendant said that he had stabbed her in the neck and throat more than 10 times, knowing that these wounds would kill her. Defendant said that before he left through the back door, he took the victim's purse and movie camera, because he feared he had left fingerprints on them the previous afternoon.

Defendant also told Gorniak that after he had attempted to bandage his wound in his apartment, he drove with his girlfriend and his brother to his mother's home in Bellwood. His mother then drove him to the hospital, where four or five stitches closed the cut on his leg, which he told hospital personnel had resulted from a potato-cutting accident.

The defendant did not testify at trial, and his defense consisted of arguments that his statement to police was taken in violation of his Miranda rights and therefore must be suppressed, and that the State had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had entered the victim's apartment without authority. Considering the testimony of several officers that the defendant had been informed of his Miranda rights prior to interrogations, and the evidence that he signed a waiver of his Miranda rights to have counsel present, the circuit Judge denied the defendant's motion to suppress his confession. The Judge found the defendant guilty on nine counts of murder, six counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault and five counts of residential burglary, and the State then asked for the death penalty.

In the first stage of the sentencing hearing, the trial Judge found the defendant eligible for the death penalty because he was over 18 years of age at the time of the murder and had been convicted of killing the victim in the course of a felony (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 9-1(b)(6)). During the second stage of the sentencing hearing, the State presented evidence in aggravation, including evidence of 8 juvenile delinquency charges, 5 station adjustments, and 12 felony charges. The State showed that since May 1980, the defendant pled or was found guilty of two burglary charges, aggravated battery, two weapons offenses and other violations of probation. Further evidence in aggravation was received from three women who testified that on separate occasions each of them had been raped and battered by the defendant, one such attack occurring only eight days prior to Mrs. LaCrosse's death.

The State also presented evidence that the defendant was a member of the Black Gangster Disciples street gang at the time of his arrest. In addition, over the defense counsel's continuing objection, the victim's parents, her husband and her brother gave victim impact statements, attesting to the trauma and grief that the victim's family endured.

In mitigation, the defense adduced testimony of various friends and relatives to the effect that the defendant was of good character and could be rehabilitated. The defense also presented evidence that he had written a poem, was a good singer and enjoyed cooking. Reviewing the statutory mitigating factors (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 9-1(c)), the circuit Judge found none applicable to the defendant. Specifically, the Judge ruled:

"In reviewing all of the, all of the evidence, considering all of the factors in mitigation, all of the factors in aggravation, giving very little weight to the victim[ impact] statements . . . I find that there are no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty."

THE CONVICTIONS

The defendant first argues that he was denied a fair trial because the State's closing argument asked the court to find the defendant guilty "on behalf of families like the LaCrosses." Defendant claims that the following dialogue, occurring at the end of the prosecutor's rebuttal argument in the trial phase, was so inflammatory that it ...


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