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06/14/88 the People of the State of v. Melvin Whitehead

June 14, 1988





525 N.E.2d 1084, 171 Ill. App. 3d 900, 121 Ill. Dec. 777 1988.IL.930

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Earl Strayhorn, Judge, presiding.


PRESIDING JUSTICE HARTMAN delivered the opinion of the court. BILANDIC and SCARIANO, JJ., concur.


On appeal from his conviction for murder and sentence of 35 years' imprisonment following a bench trial, defendant presents for our review the questions whether: (1) evidence of his phencyclidine intoxication improperly barred consideration of an insanity defense; (2) the circuit court erred in considering prejudicial testimony of his prior misconduct; and (3) his sentence is excessive.

Defendant first began dating Sheener Taylor, the murder victim, in approximately June 1984. They had at least one argument during which he physically threatened her. Sheener had an abortion in May 1985 and told her father that she had been carrying defendant's child. Defendant wanted her to have the child but her father opposed it. Sheener stopped dating defendant and began seeing someone else in May 1985.

According to defendant's signed confession, he went to Sheener's home around 8:15 a.m. on June 3, 1985, and they went to a fast-food restaurant. They returned to her home and, after the father left for work, defendant entered Sheener's home. They smoked five marijuana cigarettes together and had sexual intercourse in Sheener's bedroom. They went to the kitchen, where defendant sliced salami with a butcher knife. After he returned to the bedroom, Sheener entered holding the knife under a bath towel. She asked him what he would do if she dropped the knife near his neck. He began laughing, they wrestled on the bed, she left the bed and waived the knife playfully at him; he put her in a headlock, took the knife and said he had control. After placing the knife on the bed, they began "to romance" again. An argument started when he noticed she had a "hickey" on her chest. Sheener informed him she had met someone else at church.

They talked and agreed to a suicide pact. They both got on their knees and said a prayer, she lay down on the bed and, holding the knife, he straddled her. She asked what he was doing and started saying "no." He put the knife against the center of her chest and began to apply pressure. When she mumbled "no," he put a pillow over her head, pushed the knife into her chest and, while blood spurted on him, he stabbed her at least four more times "and then he couldn't stop stabbing her." Afterwards he rinsed the knife off in the bathroom sink, cleaned himself off with a towel and let himself out, throwing his shirt and one sock into a garbage can outside before returning home.

Deborah Richardson saw defendant between 4:30 and 5 p.m. on June 3, 1985. He stated Sheener had telephoned him that morning to come over, but when he arrived he found the front door open and her dead under the kitchen table, with a knife stuck in her chest. Defendant claimed he had carried Sheener in his arms, telephoned the police and fire departments, notified her father and waited there after the police questioned him. Sheener's father had been upset and gone off. Paul Moore also saw defendant talking with Richardson and crying and remembered that defendant said he found his girlfriend dead, that someone had broken in and killed her and that he had telephoned the police. Defendant was very upset but did not appear intoxicated and understood Moore's questions. Richardson recalled defendant crying and being visibly upset, but he did not appear under the influence of drugs to her: she observed neither slurred speech nor rolling of eyes and he spoke clearly and understandably. Later that evening she saw him eat dinner with some ladies who lived in her building.

When Sheener's father returned home, at about 10:10 p.m., he found the front door to the apartment bolted on the inside, knocked without a response, entered through the unlocked back door and found his daughter lying face down in the puddle of blood, with stab wounds in her back, neck and thigh. The post-mortem revealed 12 stab wounds to her body, six to the chest and abdomen and six to the back, as well as a stab wound to the right leg. A forensic pathologist in the Cook County medical examiner's office determined the cause of death was multiple stab wounds.

The police detective who arrested defendant on June 4, 1985, searched his apartment with his consent and found clothes with red stains. A police serologist determined Sheener's blood type was type B, and the bloodstains from her home and from the pants and sock that were found in defendant's home also tested positive for type B. On June 4, 1985, after being given his Miranda rights, defendant gave a written statement to an assistant State's Attorney, which he signed. At that time, he appeared well dressed, lucid, spoke intelligently and did not slur his words. On June 14, 1985, a grand jury indicted defendant on two counts of murder and one count of armed violence. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a)(1), (a)(2), 33A-2.

Dr. Henry G. Comroe, a psychiatrist who examined defendant on August 16, 1985, made a primary diagnosis that defendant suffered from a major depressive episode with suicidal ideations that began in May 1985. His secondary diagnosis was PCP intoxication. Dr. Comroe believed defendant's drug abuse began in May or June 1985 as a result of his depression. A psychologist had also diagnosed defendant as having major depression. Dr. Comroe believed that the marijuana cigarettes defendant and Sheener smoked had contained PCP, based on defendant's statement to him and his mother's comments about defendant's behavior afterwards. In Dr. Comroe's opinion, on June 3, 1985, defendant was unable to conform his behavior to the requirements of the law and was unable to appreciate the criminality of his behavior. Defendant was taking an antidepressant drug while in jail.

Another psychiatrist, Dr. Albert Stipes, examined defendant on November 6, 1985, and made a diagnosis of major depression without psychotic features, as well as a history of PCP intoxication. Dr. Stipes concluded that defendant did not suffer from a mental disease on June 3, 1985, that would have made him unable to appreciate the criminality of his action or conform his conduct to legal ...

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