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03/23/95 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. REGINALD MAHAFFEY

March 23, 1995

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE,
v.
REGINALD MAHAFFEY, APPELLANT.



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 Cook County, the defendant, Reginald Mahaffey, was convicted of the murders of Jo Ellen and Dean Pueschel and of the attempted murder of their son, Richard. The defendant was also convicted of a number of other offenses relating to the break-in at the Pueschels' residence. At a separate sentencing hearing, the jury found the defendant eligible for the death penalty and further determined that there were no mitigating circumstances sufficient to preclude imposition of that sentence. The defendant received terms of imprisonment for his noncapital convictions. The defendant's execution has been stayed pending direct review by this court. (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, ยง 4(b); 134 Ill. 2d Rules 603, 609(a).) For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

In 1989, following an initial trial on the offenses charged here, this court reversed the defendant's convictions and sentences and remanded the cause to the circuit court for a new trial and sentencing hearing, finding reversible error in the trial court's failure to sever the defendant's trial from that of a codefendant, his brother Jerry Mahaffey. ( People v. Mahaffey (1989), 128 Ill. 2d 388, 409-12.) On remand, the defendant waived his right to the assistance of counsel for purposes of both the trial and the capital sentencing hearing. Although the defendant was representing himself, at least one public defender, and sometimes two, stayed in the courtroom as standby counsel throughout the proceedings.

The offenses in this case were discovered by Jo Ellen's father, Joseph Heinrich, Sr., who drove to his daughter's home on the morning of August 29, 1983, after his daughter failed to drop off her son, Richard, at the Heinrichs' house and after Heinrich's call to the Pueschel residence went unanswered. Richard's school was still on summer vacation, and Richard was staying with his grandparents during the day while his parents worked. When Heinrich arrived at his daughter's apartment building, which was less than two miles from his own home, he found Richard walking outside, covered with blood. Richard told his grandfather that his parents were dead. Heinrich went inside the apartment and called the police.

The Pueschels lived in a three-story building. Their apartment was located on the first floor, and investigators discovered the bathroom window open and the window screen lying on the ground below. The body of Jo Ellen Pueschel was found on the dining room floor, and the body of Dean Pueschel was found on the floor in the master bedroom, between the bed and a dresser.

Richard Pueschel was 11 years old at the time of the offenses and was 18 at the time of the present trial. At trial, Richard testified that he went to bed around 8:30 the evening preceding the offenses. Richard woke up some time later and felt something covering his mouth and nose. He heard two persons telling him to be quiet. Richard tried to scream but was unable to do so, and he then lost consciousness. Richard woke up later, got out of bed, and went to the kitchen. There, he saw one man holding his mother, and he saw another man entering the apartment through the back door. One of the men ordered Richard and his mother to lie down on the dining room floor. In court, Richard identified the defendant as one of the two men he saw in the apartment that night, saying that he was "99% sure" that the defendant was there.

Richard next remembered waking up in his own bed. He was covered with blood. Richard found the body of Dean Pueschel in the master bedroom, and he found his mother's body in the dining room. Richard heard the telephone ringing but was unable to answer it because the receiver had been torn from the phone. Richard stated that he then went outside, where his grandfather found him. On cross-examination, Richard acknowledged that he had been unable to identify the defendant in a lineup conducted on September 2, 1983, several days after the offenses charged here. Richard was still being hospitalized for his injuries at the time the lineup was conducted.

Dr. Philip Sheridan, the surgeon who treated Richard, testified that the youth sustained a major laceration on his scalp, a fractured skull, a brain hemorrhage, two black eyes, and four stab wounds to the back. The head injuries were consistent with the victim's having been struck by a baseball bat or similar object. The doctor accompanied Richard on the trip to the police station to view the lineup. According to Dr. Sheridan, Richard had not yet completely recovered from his injuries at that time.

The defendant was taken into custody for these offenses on September 2, 1983. After receiving information earlier that morning from one of the defendant's brothers, Cedric Mahaffey, police officers arrested the defendant and another brother, Jerry Mahaffey, and seized evidence discovered at the places where they were arrested. The officers went first to the residence where the defendant was staying. The officers were admitted to the apartment by another person, who signed a form consenting to a search of the premises. The defendant was found lying on the floor in one of the bedrooms and was placed under arrest. After receiving Miranda warnings, the defendant told the officers that he knew he was going to get caught. The defendant went on to provide the officers with a brief description of the offenses and of the property taken from the Pueschels' home.

The officers found a loaded .357 Magnum revolver on a nightstand next to where the defendant was lying. In the closet, officers found about two dozen pieces of jewelry, a shotgun, and shotgun shells. Other ammunition was found elsewhere in the room. After the discovery of these items, the defendant told the officers that they had "'most of what we've got.'" At the police station where the defendant was taken following his arrest, the defendant removed a ring from his finger and a watch and chain from his pocket and said that they too belonged with the other pieces of property that had been seized.

Additional items belonging to the Pueschels were found at the two other locations pointed out by Cedric Mahaffey. In a bedroom closet at Jerry Mahaffey's home, police found a video cassette recorder, video games, and video cassettes. Police found a portable television set and a carbine rifle at the third place.

The defendant provided law enforcement authorities with a confession shortly after his arrest. The defendant made the statement in the presence of a court reporter. After the statement was transcribed, the defendant corrected it and signed it. The confession was introduced into evidence at trial and was read to the jury. In the statement, the defendant said that on August 29, 1983, he and one of his brothers, Jerry Mahaffey, decided to go to the north side of Chicago to commit a burglary. After the vehicle they were driving broke down, the defendant and his brother began walking. They went by an apartment building and noticed that a window was open. The defendant said that he removed the screen from the window, and the two then crawled in through the open window. They took money from a wallet they found in the kitchen. The defendant said that he picked up a butcher knife in the kitchen, and the defendant and his brother then went into a child's bedroom. The defendant put a pillow over the youth's head and choked him and Jerry stabbed the boy. There were baseball bats in the bedroom, and Jerry hit the boy on the head with one of the bats. The two brothers then left the room, each of them taking a baseball bat.

The defendant and Jerry then entered the master bedroom. They both struck the man on the head with the bats; the woman then woke up, and the defendant took her to the kitchen, where, he said, he had sex with her. The defendant later moved her to the living room, where, he said, he finished having sex with her. The defendant said that Jerry then came out of the bedroom, carrying a .357 Magnum revolver. The defendant later went to the master bedroom and took a number of items from a jewelry box. When the defendant returned to the living room, he saw Jerry sexually assaulting the woman.

The defendant and Jerry asked the woman where the car keys were, and she said they were on the table. She also said that the car had an alarm, and she went outside with the defendant to deactivate it. The defendant and the woman then returned to the apartment, where the defendant packed some things in a box, including a video cassette recorder and a portable television set. The defendant also took a shotgun, rifle, and revolver. The defendant hit the woman on the head with the revolver and told her to lie down. According to the defendant, Jerry said that they should kill the woman. As the defendant went out to the car, he heard what he described as "solid hits," and thought that Jerry was beating the woman and the boy with a baseball bat. The defendant started the car and waited for his brother, who came out of the apartment several minutes later.

The defendant said that he and Jerry drove first to the apartment where the defendant was living. After unloading the car, they drove to a different location and abandoned the vehicle. The defendant and Jerry later divided the property. The defendant said that he kept the .357 Magnum revolver, the shotgun, and the jewelry, while Jerry took a rifle, a video cassette recorder, and some video tapes. The defendant said that he later took video games and a portable television set to another brother's house.

At trial, surviving family members identified the jewelry, guns, and television set, video cassette recorder, video cassettes, and video games seized by the police as belonging to the Pueschels. An abandoned car found parked near a housing project on the afternoon of August 30, 1983, was also identified as Jo Ellen's.

The autopsy performed on Jo Ellen revealed a number of lacerations on her scalp and head. Her skull had been fractured, and there was evidence of brain hemorrhages. The doctor who performed the autopsy concluded that the cause of her death was injuries to the skull and brain from blunt trauma. These injuries were consistent with being struck by an object such as a baseball bat. The autopsy of Dean Pueschel disclosed a number of bruises and lacerations to the victim's head, as well as 13 stab wounds to his chest and back. The doctor who performed the autopsy concluded that the cause of Dean's death was multiple stab wounds, and that injuries to the skull and brain were a significant contributing condition. The doctor stated that Dean's skull had been fractured like an egg shell, and that the skull injuries were consistent with the victim's having been struck by a blunt object such as a baseball bat or a gun.

Forensic testing revealed the presence of sperm in Jo Ellen Pueschel's vagina. In addition, blood on one of the baseball bats found at the crime scene was consistent with Jo Ellen's blood type, and blood on another bat was consistent with Dean's. Blood consistent with Jo Ellen's was also found on the .357 Magnum revolver seized from the defendant.

The defendant did not present any evidence in his own behalf. At the conclusion of the proceedings, the jury returned verdicts finding the defendant guilty of the murders of Jo Ellen and Dean Pueschel and of the attempted murder of Richard Pueschel. The jury also found the defendant guilty of home invasion, rape, armed robbery, aggravated battery to a child, residential burglary, and theft (over $300).

The matter then proceeded to a separate sentencing hearing. At the first stage of the hearing, the State sought to establish the defendant's eligibility for the death penalty on two grounds: the defendant's conviction for multiple murders, and the commission of murder in the course of a felony (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(b)(3), (b)(6)). During the first stage of the hearing, the State introduced into evidence the verdicts that the jury had returned the previous week. After the close of evidence, the jury determined that the defendant was 18 years of age or older at the time of the offenses and found that he was eligible for the death penalty on the latter ground asserted by the State, murder in the course of a felony.

At the second stage of the sentencing hearing, the State first presented testimony from Dr. Robert Reifman, who had conducted a brief fitness examination of the defendant prior to the start of the sentencing hearing. Dr. Reifman, who was head of the Cook County Psychiatric Institute, testified that he found no evidence that the defendant was suffering from a mental disease and no evidence that the defendant was psychotic. Dr. Reifman did find evidence that the defendant was suffering from a mixed personality disorder and said that the defendant was antisocial, narcissistic, passive-aggressive, immature, and impulsive.

In aggravation, the State also presented testimony detailing the defendant's prior convictions. In 1978 the defendant was charged with the burglary of a used-car dealership. The defendant pleaded guilty to that offense and was sentenced to three years' probation, with 10 days in jail and restitution of $450. In 1979, the defendant was charged with the burglary of a general merchandise store. He entered a guilty plea to the charge and was sentenced to two years imprisonment. In 1980, the defendant was charged with the robbery of a white Castle restaurant. He later pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to four years' imprisonment.

The prosecution also introduced evidence of the defendant's attempt to escape from the Cook County jail in March 1984, prior to his first trial on these charges. In the escape attempt, the defendant and five other inmates, including the defendant's brother Jerry, forced officers at the jail to surrender their uniforms. The prisoners then dressed in the jailers' uniforms and attempted to leave the facility, taking at least two of the staff with them as hostages. Police officers eventually overpowered the inmates. The defendant was armed with a gun during the escape attempt.

The defendant rested without presenting any evidence in mitigation. At the conclusion of the proceeding, the jury found that there were no mitigating circumstances sufficient to preclude a sentence of death. The trial judge accordingly sentenced the defendant to death. At a later hearing, the trial judge sentenced the defendant on the remaining convictions, all felonies. The judge imposed an extended term of 60 years' imprisonment for the attempted murder of Richard Pueschel. The judge also sentenced the defendant to prison terms of 30 years for home invasion, 30 years for armed robbery, and 30 years for rape, with all the sentences of imprisonment to run consecutively. The judge did not sentence the defendant on his convictions for aggravated battery to a child, residential burglary, and theft (over $300), concluding that those offenses were merged in the other crimes.

I

Prior to trial, counsel who was representing the defendant at that time moved for a hearing to determine whether the defendant was fit to stand trial. Following a hearing on the question, the trial judge concluded that the defendant was competent. The defendant first argues that the trial court's finding that he was fit for trial was against the manifest weight of the evidence. According to the defendant, the record clearly establishes that he was under a religious delusion that he could not be found guilty and sentenced to death. In a nutshell, the defense theory is that the defendant believed that he had been found free of sin by God because he had survived a life-threatening fall from a second-story window in 1984, ...


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