Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. Nos. 88-P-15, 88-P-187, 89-MR-212. Honorable Michael J. Meehan, Judge presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lewis
PRESIDING JUSTICE LEWIS delivered the opinion of the court:
The issue in this case is whether a person who intentionally and unjustifiably participates in the murder of another can indirectly inherit the murder victim's estate from another ancestor. We hold that he cannot, under the facts of this case as they apply to section 2-6 of the Probate Act of 1975 (the Act). 755 ILCS 5/2-6 (West 1992).
The facts of this case, as they are relevant to the issue herein, are as follows: On December 22, 1987, Douglas White murdered his grandmother, Adella G. Vallerius. On the same day, at the same time, and in the same house, Douglas' brother, Craig White, murdered his grandmother's friend, Carroll Pieper. Douglas was convicted of Mrs. Vallerius' murder. Craig entered a negotiated plea of guilty to, and was convicted of, the murder of Carroll Pieper. Craig testified for the State in Douglas' murder trial as part of his negotiated guilty plea.
Mrs. Vallerius died testate, naming Douglas and Craig as her sole beneficiaries. Mrs. Vallerius' only heir was her daughter, Renie White, Douglas and Craig's mother. On January 11, 1988, Mrs. Vallerius' will was admitted to probate. In compliance with the terms of the will, Douglas White and Dennis Johnson were appointed legal representatives of Mrs. Vallerius' estate. About 2 1/2 months after Mrs. Vallerius was murdered, on March 7, 1988, Renie White died, intestate, of natural causes. She left as her only heirs her two sons, Douglas and Craig.
On March 12, 1990, the appellees, Peter M. Vallerius, Glenna F. Giacoletto, Lawrence Joe Davis, Helen L. Vallerius, Gail Kadavi, Iione V. Henry, Janis Murray, Terrie L. Illies, and Duffy Joe Vallerius, filed a petition to intervene and to consolidate the estates of Mrs. Vallerius and Renie White and an "Objection to Distribution" in the estate of Mrs. Vallerius, wherein they alleged that "Douglas Keith White and Craig Steven White, having intentionally and unjustifiably caused the death of Adella G. Vallerius[,] cannot lawfully receive any property, benefit or other interest" by reason of her death, through the estate of Mrs. Vallerius or through the estate of Renie White. Over Douglas' objection, the court granted the petition to intervene and consolidated the three cases.
After an evidentiary hearing on the appellees' objection to distribution, the court entered an order granting the appellees' request. The trial court found that the issue in the case was whether Douglas and Craig could receive any property or interest by reason of the death of Mrs. Vallerius, whether through her estate or the estate of Renie White. The court determined that, under both statute and common law, the public policy of Illinois has long been to prevent wrongdoers from profiting from intentionally committed wrongful acts. ( State Farm Life Insurance Co. v. Davidson (1986), 144 Ill. App. 3d 1049, 495 N.E.2d 520, 99 Ill. Dec. 139.) The court further found that the petitioner-objectors (appellees herein) had sustained their burden of proof, by clear and convincing evidence, that Douglas and Craig intentionally and unjustifiably caused the death of their grandmother, Mrs. Vallerius. The evidence relied upon by the court in making this determination "consisted of, but was not limited to: (a) The transcript of telephone eavesdrop between Craig White and Lynn Holowitch; (b) The video taped [sic ] statement of Craig White to the police; [and] (c) Craig White's testimony at the jury trial of Doug White."
Although appellants were responsible for providing us with copies of any of the exhibits listed above as relied upon by the trial court and they failed to do so, we take judicial notice of the criminal case affirming the conviction of Douglas White, People v. White (1991), 209 Ill. App. 3d 844, 567 N.E.2d 1368, 153 Ill. Dec. 910, wherein these items are described. It is clear from reading the White case that the evidence relied upon by the court directly implicates Craig in the planning and commission of the murder of both Mrs. Vallerius and Carroll Pieper. People v. White (1991), 209 Ill. App. 3d 844, 567 N.E.2d 1368, 153 Ill. Dec. 910.
The court ordered that Douglas and Craig were prohibited from obtaining any property, benefit, or other interest by reason of the death of Mrs. Vallerius, "in any capacity and under any circumstances." The court further ordered as follows:
"The Estate of Adella Vallerius, and all property, benefit and interest therefrom, must pass as if Douglas White and Craig White had died before the decedent, Adella Valerius. * * * It follows that Douglas White and Craig White must not be allowed to take Adella Vallerius' property through the estate of their mother, Renee [sic ] White. Illinois law requires that this Court treat Douglas White and Craig White as having died prior to Adella Vallerius. Logically, this Court must also treat Douglas and Craig as having predeceased their mother, Renee [sic ] White. Any other interpretation of the law would emasculate section 2-6 of the Probate Act. * * * The obvious intent of the Illinois legislature was that persons like Douglas and Craig White must not profit from their brutal murder of their grandmother."
The court ordered that the appellees were the heirs of Mrs. Vallerius and divided her estate according to their respective interests. Finally, the court ordered that Douglas and Craig "shall return to the Estate of Adella G. Vallerius any property, benefit or interest which they may have received by reason of the death of Adella Vallerius, for immediate distribution to the [appellees] in accordance with their respective interests." (We do not know if the trial court intended to include the return of the attorney fees paid on behalf of Craig and Douglas by the estate of Renie White from the funds received from the estate of Mrs. Vallerius. See In re Estate of Braun (1991), 222 Ill. App. 3d 178, 583 N.E.2d 633, 164 Ill. Dec. 717.
On July 10, 1992, Craig White and Russell Meyer, as administrator of the estate of Renie White, filed a notice of appeal of the trial court's June 23, 1992, order. On July 23, 1992, Douglas White filed a notice of appeal of the same order. Only Craig and the administrator of Renie White's estate (hereinafter the appellants) filed a brief in this appeal. Douglas did not file any brief.
The appellants first argue that Craig cannot be held accountable under the Act for Douglas' murder of Mrs. Vallerius, since Craig did not actually swing the sledgehammer that killed Mrs. Vallerius but only killed Carroll Pieper after Douglas killed Mrs. Vallerius. Appellants argue that even though Craig "may have borne criminal responsibility for the actions of Douglas White under the criminal accountability statute," Craig cannot be denied his right of inheritance from his mother, because ...