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February 17, 1995


The Honorable Justice Miller delivered the opinion of the court:

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Miller

JUSTICE MILLER delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Du Page County, the defendant, Eugene McDaniel, was convicted of first degree murder and was sentenced to 60 years' imprisonment. The appellate court affirmed the defendant's conviction and sentence. (249 Ill. App. 3d 621.) We allowed the defendant's petition for leave to appeal (145 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)), and we now affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

Given the nature of the issues raised in the present appeal, the evidence introduced at the defendant's trial may be summarized briefly. A police officer responding to an emergency call placed by the defendant arrived at the defendant's home in Winfield shortly before 1:30 a.m. on May 18, 1990. The officer entered the house and found the defendant's wife, Deborah McDaniel, lying on the bed in the master bedroom, bleeding from her head. In an adjacent bedroom the officer found the couple's young daughter, who was awake and unharmed. No one else was on the premises. The victim was taken by ambulance to Central Du Page Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Investigators discovered jewelry, money, and a checkbook strewn on the floor in the master bedroom, and saw that other rooms in the house were in disarray. The passenger-side doors of a family car parked in the garage were open. A number of items were inside the vehicle, including a cassette recorder, a telephone answering machine, a television set, a briefcase, and a bag filled with jewelry and coins; a radio was on the hood of the car.

Investigators saw no evidence of an unauthorized entry to the house, however. The windows were all closed, and the front door was closed and locked. The locks on the front door, on a sliding glass door at the rear of the house, and on the door leading from the garage into the house were intact and did not appear to have been tampered with. The sliding door was open six or seven inches; it led to a backyard patio, and the only footprints found by investigators in the lawn surrounding the patio were the officers' own.

The defendant was employed by United Airlines as a ramp supervisor at O'Hare Airport; he had worked for United for about four years. Before that, he had been employed for eight years as a police officer in Wheaton. At trial, the prosecution introduced evidence of various statements made by the defendant following the discovery of the offense. The defendant told investigators that he arrived home from work, opened the garage door, and saw wires hanging from the family car parked in the garage. The defendant stated that he also noticed that the door leading from the garage to the house was open. The defendant initially said that he entered the house, found his wife, and then ran across the street to use a neighbor's telephone. Later, however, the defendant said that he called the police before entering his home.

The defendant also told officers that he left work around 11:15 or 11:30 p.m. on May 17. He first stoppedfor gas at a service station and later stopped at a grocery store to purchase a cup of coffee. The defendant said that he arrived home around 12:30. When investigators pointed out to the defendant the gap in time between his arrival home at 12:30 a.m. and his call for help nearly an hour later, at 1:21 a.m., the defendant acknowledged the discrepancy and said simply that he was unable to explain it.

Later, during further questioning at the hospital, the defendant said that he would help law enforcement officers find the "missing 45 minutes" in his account after he first told family members what had happened. Sometime after that, the defendant left the hospital and went to his house in the company of several officers to change his clothes and to pick up some items for his daughter. There, the defendant assured an assistant State's Attorney that the case would be solved that day. Continuing, the defendant said that he "did it" and would explain why after he had talked to a lawyer. The defendant also said that the gun used in the offense would be found that day.

At trial, the State presented testimony contradicting the defendant's account of his return from work on the night of the murder. Evidence showed that the service station where the defendant said he had stopped for gas closed at 11:30 during May 1990 and did not employ a cashier similar to the description provided by the defendant. A patron of the store where the defendant said he had bought coffee prior to arriving home at 12:30 identified the defendant as being present in the store around 1:09 a.m, much later than the time defendant claimed.

The autopsy evidence disclosed that the victim died as the result of a gunshot wound to the head. Police officers found a five-shot Smith & Wesson handgun under the passenger seat of the defendant's pickup truck. The gun was loaded, and one of the shells had been discharged. Forensic testing showed that the bullet recovered from the victim's body could have been fired from the gun found in the defendant's truck. A Wheaton police officer testified that the gun taken from the truck was the one he had exchanged with the defendant a number of years earlier; the witness was able to identify the weapon by the distinctive orange paint he had placed on the sight.

The State also presented evidence that the defendant's marriage had been troubled. Testifying in behalf of the prosecution, a female United Airlines employee at O'Hare Airport stated that she and the defendant had been engaged in a romantic relationship for several years preceding the death of the defendant's wife. The witness testified that, beginning in January 1990 and continuing to the middle of May, the defendant assured her that he would marry her after he divorced his wife and sold his house.

The defendant did not testify at trial, but defense counsel introduced favorable testimony from a number of character witnesses. In addition, defense counsel presented testimony in support of the theory that the statements made by the defendant to investigators were involuntary.

After the close of evidence, the jury found the defendant guilty of the first degree murder of his wife. Following a hearing, the judge sentenced the defendant to 60 years' imprisonment for the offense. The appellate court affirmed the defendant's conviction and sentence. (249 Ill. App. 3d 621.) The appellate court upheld the trial judge's order denying the defendant's motion to suppress his statements. The appellate court rejected the defendant's remaining allegations of error as well, concluding that the public defenders appointed to represent the defendant following his request for counsel were not ineffective, that certain comments made by theprosecutor in closing argument were proper and did not constitute grounds for a ...

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