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09/20/89 the People of the State of v. Lee C. Felella

September 20, 1989





546 N.E.2d 492, 131 Ill. 2d 525, 137 Ill. Dec. 547 1989.IL.1444

Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Arthur Cieslik, Judge, presiding.


CHIEF JUSTICE MORAN delivered the opinion of the court.


Defendant, Lee C. Felella, was indicted in the circuit court of Cook County for the murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a)(1), (a)(2)) of Robert Stegan. He waived his right to a jury and following a bench trial was convicted of voluntary manslaughter (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 9- 2(b)). At the sentencing hearing, Stegan's mother testified about the emotional and physical impact she suffered as a result of her son's death. The defendant was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment. The appellate court, in a Rule 23 order (107 Ill. 2d R. 23), affirmed defendant's conviction, but vacated the sentence because of "the very real possibility that the mother's testimony was taken into account in assessing the sentence." (163 Ill. App. 3d 1156 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).) We granted the State's petition for leave to appeal (107 Ill. 2d R. 315), and allowed the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists to file a brief as amicus curiae in support of the State. 107 Ill. 2d R. 345.

An issue presented for review is whether the mother's testimony should have been introduced at the sentencing stage of defendant's noncapital felony trial, pursuant to the Bill of Rights for Victims and Witnesses of Violent Crime Act (Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 1401 et seq.). Defendant on a cross-appeal contests the sufficiency of the evidence as to his manslaughter conviction.

The record reveals that defendant fatally stabbed Stegan, who was unarmed, with an eight-inch martial arts knife. It was stipulated that Stegan died from a stab wound to the heart and tested negative for drugs commonly known as "mushrooms."

The record also reveals that defendant and his brother, Fred, met Stegan on the morning of July 3, 1984, at Lonnie Nelson's house in Chicago. Nelson, Stegan, defendant and defendant's brother then went to Stegan's house, about a block away, where they drank beer. Stegan agreed to drive defendant and his brother to Franklin Park, Illinois. A short time later, Stegan, defendant and defendant's brother left in Stegan's pickup truck.

On the way to Franklin Park they stopped at a liquor store to buy more beer. While in the liquor store parking lot, defendant removed the martial arts knife from his bag to repair the truck's stereo. The knife was used by both Stegan and the defendant to strip the plastic casing off the stereo wires. After using the knife, defendant placed the open knife on the seat of the truck, where it remained throughout the day. During the trip to Franklin Park, Stegan drank beer and, allegedly, ate hallucinogenic mushrooms.

After dropping defendant's brother off in Franklin Park, Stegan and defendant were to return to Chicago. Rather than returning directly to Chicago, Stegan drove to an apartment complex in Schiller Park, Illinois, where he met Lester Hermes, a former co-worker.

On the return trip to Chicago, Stegan allegedly slammed his watch into the dashboard of the truck and tried to "punch" defendant. Stegan also allegedly told defendant that he would "kick [his] ass."

Lonnie Nelson testified that at 7 or 7:30 p.m. that evening, he and Daniel Killian were sitting on his porch when defendant drove up in the truck with Stegan in the passenger seat. Defendant stopped the truck in the middle of the street in front of Nelson's house. He said the two men were arguing about defendant's "water bong," which was described as marijuana paraphernalia. Defendant left the truck and took the keys with him. Stegan moved over to the driver's side and exited the truck. Defendant then threw the keys into some bushes, which prompted Stegan to ask why he did so. The two resumed arguing about the "bong" and defendant said he would not help find the keys. Nelson further testified that he believed Stegan grabbed defendant by the shoulder, not to throw him down, but just to get his keys back. Stegan told defendant, "I'll kill you, you are shaking so bad." Nelson said that at this point defendant asked him for help, but he replied that he was not going to interfere. He further stated that defendant then pulled a knife from his right pocket, stabbed Stegan in the heart and ran away. He said that he had seen the defendant playing with the knife on several previous occasions, and that defendant had told him he attended a martial arts school. He also said that Stegan never had a weapon in his hands during this time.

Daniel Killian testified as follows: he corroborated Nelson's testimony and added that both Stegan and defendant were pushing one another after they left the truck; he saw the knife in defendant's hand after Nelson told defendant that he would not get involved; he saw defendant reach out his arm, stab Stegan, pull the knife back and run; and he did not see any weapons in Stegan's hands. He further testified that he too had seen defendant playing with the knife at least once before; that when Stegan commented that he could kill defendant, ...

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