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12/21/88 the People of the State of v. Thomas V. Odle

December 21, 1988







538 N.E.2d 428, 128 Ill. 2d 111, 131 Ill. Dec. 53 1988.IL.1837

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, the Hon. Donald E. Garrison, Judge, presiding.


CHIEF JUSTICE MORAN delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE MILLER, specially Concurring. JUSTICE STAMOS joins in this special concurrence.


Defendant, Thomas V. Odle, was charged by information in the circuit court of Jefferson County under section 9-1(a)(1) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(1)) for the murders of Robert, Carolyn, Sean, Robyn and Scott Odle. A jury found defendant guilty of all five murders. The State requested a hearing to consider whether the death penalty should be imposed. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 9-1(d).) Defendant waived a jury, and the trial court found defendant eligible for the death penalty. After hearing evidence in aggravation and mitigation, the trial court sentenced defendant to death. The death sentence was stayed (107 Ill. 2d R. 609(a)), pending direct appeal to this court (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 107 Ill. 2d R. 603).

The issues presented for review are: (1) whether the trial court erred in denying defendant a surrebuttal closing argument at the guilt phase of the trial; (2) whether the prosecutor's statements during closing argument denied defendant a fair trial; (3) whether the trial court's reference to a New York case defining "extreme mental and emotional disturbance" demonstrates that it adopted too strict a definition of this mitigating factor at the sentencing phase; (4) whether the trial court's consideration of evidence and adjudications from juvenile court proceedings violated defendant's rights under the Juvenile Court Act; (5) whether there are sufficient mitigating factors to preclude imposition of the death penalty. Defendant also asks that we reconsider prior cases holding the Illinois death penalty statute constitutional.

On Friday, November 8, 1985, officers from the Mount Vernon police department and the Jefferson County sheriff's office discovered the dead bodies of defendant's father, mother, two brothers and sister in the family residence. Defendant became the prime suspect in the investigation of the murders, and was apprehended the next morning. Defendant was read his Miranda rights and waived his right to have an attorney present during questioning. During questioning on the day after the murders, he made an oral statement in which he confessed to the murders. The confession was tape-recorded and later transcribed.

Defendant's tape-recorded confession as well as the transcript of the confession were admitted into evidence at trial. In that confession, he recounted the events surrounding the murders. He stated that on November 8, 1985, he awoke at approximately 9:30 a.m. He was alone in the house except for his father, Robert Odle, who was in the kitchen. After smoking a cigarette and taking a shower, he went into the kitchen to find something to eat. Before returning to his bedroom, he removed a butcher knife with a five- to six-inch blade from a rack in the kitchen. A few moments later, he placed the knife in his pants, placed the lower portion of the shirt he was wearing over the knife, and reentered the kitchen. Defendant then stabbed Mr. Odle with the knife on the right side of the throat. Mr. Odle attempted to reach for the phone but defendant waved him off with the knife and told him to stay away from the phone. Mr. Odle sat down in a chair in the kitchen and defendant stabbed him in the left side of the neck and in the stomach.

Defendant stated that his mother was expected to return home at approximately 11:30 a.m. He dragged his father's body into the bathroom, laid towels on the floor to cover the trail of blood his father's body left, and used a mop and cleaner to remove the remaining blood before his mother returned.

Defendant stated that when his mother, Carolyn Odle, returned home, he hid behind the back door and stabbed her as she walked into the house. Mrs. Odle ran into the living room while defendant continued to stab her. He maneuvered her toward his parent's bedroom and told her to "look at Dad." Mrs. Odle fell to the floor, and he placed her body on the floor at the foot of his parents' bed.

Defendant removed the clothes he was wearing, washed them, and changed into another set of clothes. Defendant stated that at approximately 12 p.m., he drove to the high school to see his girlfriend, Theresa Blevins. He returned home at approximately 2 p.m., removed the blood which remained on the television, refrigerator, floor, table and chairs, and watched television.

At 3:10 p.m., his brother Scott, age 11 years, came home. When Scott asked him about some blood marks on the walls, defendant told him that it was paint. When Scott asked further questions, he told Scott their parents had left for the weekend. He then told Scott to go into the back bedroom that he and Scott shared with their brother Sean. When they reached the bedroom, defendant began to strangle Scott with his hands. Defendant stated that at this point his hands became tired. He then tied a pajama bottom around Scott's neck and continued to strangle him. Defendant dragged Scott's body into his parents' bedroom and laid him next to Mrs. Odle.

Defendant further stated that because his mother usually drove his brother Sean and his sister Robyn home from school at 3:30 p.m., he picked them up. When they returned home, defendant blindfolded Sean, took him into the bedroom where their mother and brother lay, and tied his hands behind his back with a towel. Defendant stabbed Sean in the throat three times, and then stabbed him in the cheek and head. Defendant left the room to get his sister but heard noises in the room he had just left. Realizing that Sean was still alive, defendant returned to the room and again stabbed Sean in the head and the back of the neck.

Defendant stated he then changed back into the blue jeans he had washed earlier that day, changed his shirt, and went to get his sister Robyn. He told her to come to the bedroom which contained the bodies of their two brothers and their mother, held his hand over her eyes as they entered the room, and told her he had a surprise. Defendant then uncovered her eyes, showed her the bodies of her mother and her brothers, and stabbed her in the neck four to five times and once in the side.

Defendant stated he noticed he had blood all over him. He also noticed that he had cut his hands when they slipped off the handle of the knife and onto the blade while stabbing the victims in the head. He washed himself in a sink, changed clothes, locked up the house, took his father's car and drove around for about an hour. He then picked up Theresa Blevins at a gas station near the high school. Defendant stated they went to a motel room where they spent the night.

When asked if he had told Blevins anything about the incident, he said he had not. He stated that the first Blevins heard of the incident was when she called a friend from the motel room the morning after the murders, and was told the police were looking for defendant because he was suspected of having murdered a family of five. Defendant stated he "told her she was crazy."

Upon further questioning, defendant said that he and his parents had argued the day before the murders. When asked what he and his parents had argued about, defendant replied they argued about "every day nonsense. . . . They bitched at me for every little thing I did. I look at them wrong. What are you looking at me like that for? Constantly jumping on [ sic ] my throat. Constantly, constantly pressuring me." When asked how long this had occurred, defendant replied, "Years." Defendant stated that his parents had told him he had to "find another place to live" by the time his father left for work the next day at 4 p.m.

When asked why he had killed his siblings, defendant stated that once his parents were dead, there was no one to take care of the children. When asked if the children could have lived with relatives, defendant stated the children "would find [Mr. and Mrs. Odle] and they would run and tell." In response to an officer's question regarding what defendant planned to do after leaving the motel room, defendant said he was going to "just drive" and "[f]ind a pole to hit or something."

The testimony adduced at trial reveals the following. Dr. Richard Garretson, the Jefferson County coroner, testified on behalf of the State. His testimony concerned the condition of the victims when found and the manner in which they died. Dr. Garretson testified that Scott's neck had been compressed to the size of an adult man's wrist. In contrasting Scott's strangulation death from the stabbing deaths of the other victims, Dr. Garretson stated that "it's a suffocation death even though we call it immediate on the coroner's death certificate. It takes minutes for somebody to die. That would be [a] very agonizing death."

Defendant's friends, Larry Owens, Kim Cates and Theresa Blevins, testified at trial on behalf of the State. Their testimony indicates that they were with defendant at various times during the day of the murders, and that a few days before the murder, defendant told them Mr. and Mrs. Odle were going out of town for the weekend and that his brothers and sister were going to spend the weekend at his grandmother's house.

Owens also testified that on the day of the murders he telephoned the defendant's house at approximately 9:30 a.m. and received a busy signal. He stated that he eventually reached defendant, and that defendant was breathing hard when he answered the phone. When he asked defendant what was wrong, defendant answered that he had spilled some red paint on the hallway carpet and wanted to clean it up before his father returned. When defendant asked Owens if he wanted to drive around with him, Owens said he would. Owens then drove to defendant's house along with his girlfriend, Kim Cates.

When they reached defendant's house, they sounded the car horn and defendant emerged from the house. Defendant told them to park their car at the city park and he would pick them up. Owens stated he and his girlfriend drove to the park and defendant picked them up in Mr. Odle's car. Defendant told Owens that his father and mother had gone for the weekend, leaving him the car.

Owens further testified that they drove to the high school and met Theresa Blevins there between 11:30 a.m. and noon. He stated that when Blevins mentioned to defendant that he had some blood on his neck, defendant looked in the rear view mirror of the car and wiped off the blood. He stated that after Blevins went back to school, they went riding around in the car. Owens stated that while they drove defendant asked him if he could ever kill anyone. Owens testified that he "confronted [defendant] about it"; however, defendant did not respond.

Owens testified that defendant called him later that day at approximately 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m., and asked him if he wanted to go riding around again. Owens stated he and Cates went riding with defendant and picked Blevins up at a gas station. He stated that they visited Owen's brother, who was staying at a local motel, where they talked for approximately 30 minutes and left. Defendant then drove them to another motel and rented a room. Owens stated that all four of them went into the motel room and stayed there until defendant drove him and Cates back to Cates' house at approximately 9:30 p.m.

Owens' girlfriend, Kim Cates, also testified on behalf of the State. Her testimony substantially corroborated Owens' testimony. In addition, Cates testified that when defendant picked them up in the afternoon, she noticed defendant had two cuts on his left hand and one on his right hand. When she asked defendant where he had received the cuts, she testified defendant told her he had slammed his left hand in the car door. Defendant did not explain the cut on his right hand.

Theresa Blevins testified on behalf of the State. Blevins' testimony corroborated Owens' and Cates' testimony regarding their activities on the day of the murders. In addition, Blevins testified that a few days before the murders she and defendant made plans for the weekend to spend the night together at defendant's house or a motel.

Blevins further testified that when she met defendant, Owens and Cates at the gas station, she noticed that defendant had blood streaks on the inside of his right arm from his wrist to his elbow. Blevins testified that she did not ask, nor did defendant say how the blood got on his arm.

Blevins stated that she and defendant spent the night together at the motel. Blevins testified that the next morning, she telephoned a friend from the motel and was told that defendant was on the news regarding the murder of a family. Blevins testified that she laughed and told her friend that she would go to the police station and "straighten everything out." When she hung up the phone and related the story to defendant, his reaction was "[r]eally, wow." Blevins stated that defendant told her he would go to the police station and "straighten everything out" after he dropped Blevins off at her friend's house.

Blevins described defendant as a quiet person, but indicated that defendant was more so on the day of the murders. Blevins testified that defendant acted the same way at noon that day as he did later in the second motel. Blevins stated that as far as she knew, defendant did not have trouble sleeping that night.

Yvonne Sexton, a friend of Mrs. Odle, testified on behalf of the State. She testified that on the day of the murders she went to the Odle home to show something to Mrs. Odle. She stated defendant came out of the house and told her Mrs. Odle had left with a woman in a green car. She testified defendant was calm and friendly when she spoke with him.

Kim Twiggs testified she overheard a conversation defendant was having with another person in the city park two days before the murders. She stated that defendant said he was going to have the family car that weekend and that there was going to be a party at his house.

The defense raised at trial was insanity. In support of his theory, defendant presented a substantial amount of testimony from friends, neighbors, and family counselors and Department of Children and Family Services (Department) employees. Some of the Department employees had counseled the Odle family after they had received reports that the family was physically and emotionally abusing Sean. Other employees were called to testify concerning the Department's actions after the filing of a juvenile proceeding in which defendant was adjudicated delinquent for one count of felony theft, four counts of residential burglary, and one count of attempted residential burglary. All of the witnesses were called to either describe the Odle family and its members, the parents' treatment of the Odle children, or defendant's drug use.

Dr. Henry Conroe, a psychiatrist, testified on behalf of defendant. He was unable to render an opinion as to defendant's sanity on the day of the murders because three questions, which he stated were essential to the diagnosis, remained unanswered after his review of the defendant's records and his interview with defendant. First, he was unable to determine why defendant murdered his father and his brother, Scott, while expressing considerable affection for them during their interview. Second, he stated he was unable to determine why defendant continued to murder his family while ...

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