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10/05/89 the People of the State of v. Robert C. Bleitner

October 5, 1989





546 N.E.2d 241, 189 Ill. App. 3d 971, 137 Ill. Dec. 487 1989.IL.1603

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Calhoun County; the Hon. Dennis K. Cashman, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the opinion of the court. LUND and STEIGMANN, JJ., concur.


Following a jury trial in Adams County, the defendant, Robert C. Bleitner, was convicted of unlawful use of weapons (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 24-1(a)(7)), conspiracy to commit murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 8-2(a)), and attempt (first degree murder) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 8-4(a)). Defendant was sentenced to concurrent terms of imprisonment of 28 years for the offense of attempt (first degree murder) and 5 years for the offense of unlawful use of weapons. No sentence was imposed on the conspiracy offense. Defendant has appealed contending: (1) the trial court erred in finding him fit to stand trial; (2) the initial stop and search of his automobile by the police was improper; and (3) evidence of motive was erroneously admitted.

The convictions arose from a June 2, 1988, attempt by defendant to place a pipe bomb on the car of Charles H. Burch, Calhoun County's State's Attorney. The evidence presented at trial showed in March of 1988, Burch began an investigation of defendant for the criminal sexual assault of defendant's 17-year-old stepdaughter. This investigation resulted in an indictment on April 29, 1988. Thereafter, defendant's wife, Theresa Bleitner, sent her other two minor daughters to a shelter home. The girls had previously resided with Theresa Bleitner and defendant though they were the subject of a juvenile neglect proceeding.

Defendant expressed his aggravation resulting from the neglect proceedings and the charges of sexual assault to the children's guardian ad litem, John W. Guntren. Defendant told Guntren he had made a "list" of people to "get," which included the Judge presiding over these matters; Charles Burch, the State's Attorney; several employees of the Department of Children and Family Services; and the attorneys involved in these cases. In discussing what he meant by his statements, defendant declared they would all be sorry. After unsuccessfully attempting to file criminal charges against Burch for his actions in the sexual assault and neglect cases, defendant stated to Guntren he was going to make Burch number one on his list.

To determine where Burch resided, defendant followed a car driven by Burch's wife to their rural residence located outside Hamburg, Illinois, on the bluffs of the Mississippi River near the intersection of county road No. 2 and Sunset Road. From the information obtained, defendant drew a map of the area which he used in coordinating his plan. Defendant's plan was to tape the pipe bomb which he had made to the gas tank of the State's Attorney's Ford Escort and to affix a heat sensor to the tail pipe. Defendant discussed his plans with his 18-year-old son, Robert H. Bleitner, and his son's 15-year-old friend, who was then living with the Bleitners. Defendant told his son the bombing was because of the sexual assault case.

On the evening of June 1, 1988, defendant's wife and minor friend drove defendant and his son to a location within one or two miles of where Burch resided. Upon letting defendant and his son out of the car, she and the minor returned to their home. The defendant and his son were wearing camouflage clothing and camouflage paint on their faces and hands. They entered Burch's property through a wheat field carrying a homemade pipe bomb, duct tape, wire cutters, binoculars, and a marine hand-held radio. Part of the way into the property defendant instructed his son to wait in the shadow of a utility pole and to keep a lookout for the State's Attorney with his binoculars. Defendant proceeded toward the residence by crawling through the wheat field.

As defendant approached the residence, Burch's dog, which was outside, started barking loudly and constantly. At about 11:25 p.m., Burch ultimately came outside to investigate, but finding nothing wrong, returned inside his home. As a result, defendant aborted his plan to attach the bomb to the car at that time. Defendant returned to his son's location at the utility pole and they exited Burch's property. On the way out, defendant removed the cover from a utility pedestal and randomly cut telephone wires. By using a prearranged signal over the hand-held radio, defendant summoned his wife to drive to the area to pick up himself and his son. The defendant's wife and the minor left their home and drove the same route to retrieve defendant and his son.

Due to other unrelated investigations, Calhoun County police had the Bleitner residence under surveillance that evening. The Bleitner residence is located in Hamburg, a small village of approximately 300 people located near the Mississippi River. The officers began their surveillance at approximately 1 a.m. on June 2, 1988. At 1:40 a.m., the house lights extinguished. Defendant's wife and the minor exited the residence, entered their car and drove off. The police followed them with their squad car lights off. The Bleitner vehicle proceeded south on county road No. 2. After approximately 22 miles and 50 minutes of driving, the Bleitner car stopped and the dome light came on for about 20 seconds. The car had stopped approximately 200 feet from a farm house and machine shed. The defendant's car proceeded in the same direction for a little way, turned around and headed back toward town. At this time, the officers activated their headlights and flashing red lights and stopped the vehicle. When the vehicle was stopped, the officers discovered defendant and his son had joined Theresa Bleitner and the minor in the car. Defendant and his son were wearing camouflage clothes and camouflage paint. In plain view on the front seat between defendant and his wife was a pipe bomb in a clear plastic bag. When defendant left his car as ordered, the officers seized the bag.

Upon processing the defendant and his family at headquarters, the police tried to telephone Burch, as they knew his residence was nearby. Upon being unable to do so, they went to his house and awakened him. At daybreak, the police and Burch observed a fresh path from the driveway to the road through the wheat field. Eventually the cut telephone wires were discovered and repaired. A crime lab expert matched the cut wires to pliers attributed to defendant.

Other evidence at trial disclosed the bomb was live, functional as connected, and capable of exploding. Items seized from the defendant's house and car, pursuant to a search warrant, ...

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