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March 24, 1994


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 91-CF-119. Honorable Robert G. Coplan, Judge, Presiding.

Petition for Leave to Appeal Denied October 6, 1994.

Inglis, McLAREN, Geiger

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Inglis

PRESIDING JUSTICE INGLIS delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant, Michael Chambers, was convicted of first-degree murder (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(1) (now 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 1992))) after a jury trial in the circuit court of Winnebago County. He was sentenced to life in prison, and he appeals. Defendant raises five contentions in this court: (1) he was denied the effective assistance of counsel when his attorney did not block the admission of evidence regarding his criminal background; (2) evidence of the victim's blood-alcohol content should have been admitted; (3) a jury instruction on second-degree murder should have been given; (4) the prosecutor's closing argument denied defendant a fair trial; and (5) the trial court's ruling that there was no bona fide doubt of the defendant's fitness to proceed to sentencing was error. We address only the first issue and find that a new trial is required.

Defendant stabbed his girlfriend to death while they were riding home in a car driven by defendant's friend following a night of drinking. After visiting a few bars and drinking mixed drinks and shots of a fortified peppermint schnapps, defendant and his girlfriend, Beverly Adams, decided to head home. Defendant drove Beverly's car and stopped on the way at the home of his friend, Michael Gardner, to see if he could obtain some marijuana. Defendant went into the home at about 1 a.m., while Beverly slept in the front seat of the car.

Defendant and Gardner exited the house and Gardner drove the car. He handed some marijuana to defendant, who was in the backseat, and defendant rolled a joint. Gardner and defendant smoked the joint. While Gardner was driving, Beverly awoke and began to yell at defendant because Gardner was driving her car and because she said that Gardner had touched her inappropriately. Defendant slapped Beverly and she told defendant that if he hit her again, she would kick him out of the apartment they shared. The two began to fight and defendant pulled Beverly into the backseat with him. He stabbed her numerous times in the neck and back.

When the car arrived at defendant's apartment, the two men carried Beverly inside. Defendant immediately went into the apartment's bathroom and began to change his clothes. Gardner told defendant that Beverly, who was very bloody and was having trouble breathing, had to go to the hospital. Defendant came out of the bathroom and poked Beverly with his foot, apparently to stir her. He then told Gardner to take her to the hospital. Gardner did. Beverly died a short time later. Defendant was arrested later that day.

At trial, defendant presented the defense of insanity. Dr. Frank Cushing, a clinical psychologist, testified for defendant. Dr. Cushing stated that defendant was drug and alcohol dependent, that he suffered from a residual attention deficit hyperactive disorder, and that he had an anti-social personality, a narcissistic personality, and an unspecified personality disorder with sadistic traits. In Dr. Cushing's opinion, defendant's intoxication combined with his disorders rendered him unable to form the intent to kill or act knowingly at the time of the murder. Dr. Cushing based his opinion on a review of documents, including previous psychological reports, police reports and witness statements, and interviews with defendant and his mother.

Dr. Roy Schenk, a biochemist, testified for the defense regarding the factors affecting blood-alcohol levels. He opined that defendant's blood-alcohol level could have been between .25 and .35 at the time of the murder, depending on his rate of metabolizing alcohol. Dr. Schenk did not talk with defendant, but made calculations based on information supplied to him by defense counsel regarding the extent of defendant's drinking on the day and night of the murder.

Dr. David Levine, a psychiatrist, testified for the prosecution. He opined that defendant was capable of reasoning and exerting judgment at the time of the crime. Dr. Levine interviewed defendant and reviewed arrest reports made in the case. Defendant told Dr. Levine about his criminal history. Dr. Levine testified from his report:

"Summarizing my report, essentially, Mr. Chambers told me he had a long history of criminal activities since approximately the age of 12; that at that time, he was arrested for aggravated arson, but said that the charges were dropped. And he explained that he was smoking in a community center and that is what the incident had been about really. He said that he had 7 traffic tickets for moving violations. He stated that he was arrested for burglary but that the charges were dropped. He also told me about a series of he stated 33 counts of armed robbery with a gun. And that those robberies were against movie theaters in Rockford over a two to three months period. And he stated that he netted approximately a $116,000 during that time. He at that point told me about--I believe we talked about his use of a weapon, and he said that he has used a weapon both offensively and defensively but went into more detail about defensive use of a weapon but did say when he would raid drug houses, it was essentially to rob them; that he would brandish a gun essentially to scare people into just turning over I believe money, maybe drugs as well, at that point.

He states that he was arrested for--he states that he was arrested for attempted murder and explained that he had used the handle of a meat cleaver, not the knife itself, but the handle to defend himself against a friend who was drunk and who was abusive. He said it was self-defense. However, he was arrested for that. I believe he served four out of the six year sentence for attempted murder. In 1985 he told me he was arrested for residential burglary, which carried a sentence of ten years but that the charges were reduced and he was paroled.

He also said that he was arrested for aggravated battery and that was when he hit his grandmother he explained accidentally, but the police I think chose to charge him. His grandmother was not pressing charges. The ...

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