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03/30/95 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. HOWARD WILEY

March 30, 1995

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE,
v.
HOWARD WILEY, APPELLANT.



The Honorable Justice McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court: Justice Harrison, concurring in part and dissenting in part.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mcmorrow

JUSTICE McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court:

A jury in the circuit court of Cook County found defendant, Howard Wiley, guilty of murder and armed robbery. The trial court, sitting as finder of fact, determined that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of a sentence of death and imposed the death penalty. Judgment was stayed pending direct appeal to this court (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, ยง 4(b); 134 Ill. 2d Rules 603, 609(a)). Upon review, we found that defendant was entitled to a hearing with respect to his claim that the State had used peremptory challenges in violation of Batson v. Kentucky (1986), 476 U.S. 79, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69, 106 S. Ct. 1712. (See People v. Wiley (1993), 156 Ill. 2d 464, 190 Ill. Dec. 736, 622 N.E.2d 766.) As a result, we remanded the cause to the circuit court with directions to conduct further proceedings under Batson.

The trial court held a Batson hearing as instructed by this court. Based upon the evidence presented at the hearing, the trial court concluded that the State had not violated the principles enunciated in Batson. The cause has now returned to this court for review of the trial court's Batson findings, as well as the additional issues raised by defendant prior to the Batson remand.

BACKGROUND

As we noted in our initial consideration of defendant's appeal in this cause, defendant was found guilty of the murder and armed robbery of Donna Rucks (Rucks), her daughter Carla Williams (Williams), who lived with her in an apartment in the City of Chicago, and Rucks' sister, Adrienne Parham (Parham). According to evidence presented at trial, the offenses were committed in Rucks' apartment on approximately December 2, 1986. In addition, State evidence demonstrated that all of the women died from gunshot wounds to the head. Their bodies were discovered on December 3, 1986, by employees of the building management where the apartment was located. Officers of the Chicago police department were summoned to the scene.

Detective Richard Rochowicz of the Chicago police department testified that on December 3, he and his partner, Richard Vallandingham, arrived at the apartment at approximately 10:40 a.m. Thereafter, Detectives Thomas Ptak and William Foley also arrived at the apartment. The telephone rang while the officers were there and Detective Foley answered. After this phone conversation, Detectives Ptak and Foley went to the home of defendant's father, where they met the defendant. The detectives told defendant that they were investigating the death of Donna Rucks.

Detective Ptak testified that defendant stated that he was an acquaintance of Rucks, that he was concerned about her, and that he would be happy to help in the investigation. Defendant agreed to accompany the detectives to a nearby police station. While defendant was at the station house, he acknowledged to Detective Ptak that he had been at the women's apartment the previous day. Defendant explained that he had been "concerned" because no one answered his knocks on the door of the apartment. Defendant said that he called the police, but that the officers who responded to his call refused to break into the apartment because it looked secure from the outside.

Defendant also informed Detective Ptak that defendant had spoken to a parole officer. Detective Ptak consulted with this parole officer and then resumed his interview with the defendant. Defendant waived his Miranda rights at this interview and stated that he had gone to the women's apartment on December 2 and knocked on the door. Defendant related that his knocking caused the door to swing open and that he entered the apartment. Defendant stated that he found the dead bodies of Rucks, Parham, and Williams in the apartment. The locations of the bodies and the condition of the apartment as recounted by the defendant corresponded to the scene as it had appeared to Detective Ptak. Defendant stated that he left the apartment, closing the door behind him, realizing that as he did so the door would lock. Defendant explained that he had not told the police what he had discovered because he was afraid that someone would "pin" the deaths on him because he was on parole. When Detective Ptak told defendant that one of the victims had been raped, defendant disagreed, telling Detective Ptak that he "knew" that victim had not been raped. Following these remarks, defendant was placed under arrest for the murder of the three women.

The following day, Detective Ptak learned that defendant might have fired a weapon, a few days earlier, at a store in a neighborhood near the apartment where the women had been murdered. The detective went to the store and recovered a bullet that was embedded into a cooler. Detective Ptak was told that defendant had fired the shot into the cooler. The officer returned to the police station and submitted the bullet he had recovered from the cooler for ballistics studies.

Thereafter, Detectives Rochowicz and Vallandingham advised defendant of his Miranda rights and informed defendant that the bullet from the cooler matched those recovered from the bodies of the dead women. Defendant then agreed to give an account of what had actually taken place.

Defendant told the officers that on December 2, he telephoned one of the slain women, Carla Williams, who was "holding" $5,000 for him. Defendant told Williams that he wanted the money, but she said she did not have it and that he would have to wait for it. Defendant became angry that Williams refused to return his money. He went to a pool hall where he met Eddie Jones, whom he also knew by the name of Charles Battles. In talking to Battles, defendant offered to pay $1,500 to Battles if he would help defendant recover his money from Williams. Battles agreed and they drove to the women's apartment. Defendant gave Battles a .38 revolver that defendant had with him.

When they arrived at Rucks' apartment, defendant knocked on the door and was allowed to enter. He left the door open slightly so that Battles could get into the home. According to defendant, Battles came into the apartment and announced a "stickup." One of the women, Rucks, jumped up from the couch. Her movements startled Battles and he shot her. Then Parham, one of the other murdered women, started to run away. Battles shot her also. The third woman, Williams, came down the steps from the upstairs bedroom. When Williams saw what had happened, she started to run back up the stairs. Battles pursued and shot her. Defendant related to the detectives that Battles then said to defendant that he "better be with" Battles, and defendant agreed that he was "with" Battles. Defendant then left the apartment, while Battles remained.

After giving this verbal account to the detectives, defendant gave oral and written statements to assistant State's Attorney Michael Gerber. These later statements were substantially similar to the account defendant gave to Detective Rochowicz.

Tests performed by evidence technicians established that the bullet recovered from the cooler had been fired from the same weapon used to shoot the three women in the December 2 homicides. A firearms examiner employed by the Chicago police department, Detective Richard Chenow, testified at defendant's trial regarding the specific characteristics of the bullets that linked those fired into the women to the shot fired into the cooler. Two eyewitnesses, Robert Jackson and Nigem Abder, testified that on November 26, 1985, they saw defendant shoot a weapon in the store, and that the bullet fired from the gun struck and became embedded in a cooler.

At the close of the State's case, the trial court denied defendant's motion for a directed verdict. Defendant presented no evidence in his own behalf. Following deliberations, the jury found defendant guilty of three counts of murder and three counts of armed robbery. After sentencing hearings, defendant was sentenced to death on the murder convictions and consecutive 30-year sentences for the armed robbery convictions.

Additional evidence and matters of record are set out below with respect to the issues upon which they bear significance.

BATSON ISSUE

In his initial appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred when it denied his motion for a mistrial based on the State's alleged discriminatory use of peremptory challenges during jury selection in violation of Batson v. Kentucky (1986), 476 U.S. 79, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69, 106 S. Ct. 1712

In Batson, the United States Supreme Court held that the prosecution cannot employ a peremptory challenge in order to exclude a prospective juror because of race. When a defendant claims that the State has engaged in improper use of peremptory challenges in violation of Batson, the defendant must first make out a prima facie case of discrimination. In a prima facie case, the facts and circumstances must raise, "from all the surrounding circumstances, a reasonable inference that the prosecutor exercised peremptory challenges to exclude prospective jurors because of their race. [Citations]." ( Wiley, 156 Ill. 2d at 473.) Once it is determined that the defendant has made out a prima facie case of discrimination with respect to the prosecution's peremptory challenge of particular jurors, the burden shifts to the State to come forward with race-neutral reasons for its peremptory challenges of those jurors. The trial court must then decide if the defendant has demonstrated that the prosecutor engaged in purposeful discrimination in seeking to exclude the jurors. Batson, 476 U.S. at 96-98, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 87-89, 106 S. Ct. at 1723-24; People v. Mitchell (1992), 152 Ill. 2d 274, 288, 178 Ill. Dec. 354, 604 N.E.2d 877; see also J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B. (1994), 511 U.S. , 128 L. Ed. 2d 89, 114 S. Ct. 1419; Hernandez v. New York (1991), 500 U.S. 352, 114 L. Ed. 2d 395, 111 S. Ct. 1859.

In defendant's initial appeal to this court, we determined that the defendant had made out a prima facie case in which the State's use of peremptory challenges with regard to five prospective jurors had violated the directives of Batson. We remanded the cause for further proceedings to enable the State to provide reasons for its peremptory challenges of these jurors. (See Wiley, 156 Ill. 2d at 476-77.) The trial court's Batson hearing focused on the State's use of peremptory challenges with respect to prospective jurors Willie Smith, Lawrence Towns, Lavita Bluit, Eugene Weatherall, and Silas Gilty.

Before the prosecution explained its precise reasons for exercising peremptory challenges against these jurors, the assistant State's Attorneys explained to the trial court that they had approached jury selection with a "wish list" of those characteristics they were hoping to find in persons selected to serve on the jury. These characteristics included the ability to be fair, honest, sober, cogent, patient, attentive, detail-oriented, and analytical. After detailing the characteristics contained in their "wish list," the prosecutors gave their reasons for challenging the prospective jurors. Following briefing and argument, the trial court determined that the State had not exercised its peremptory challenges in order to exclude the prospective jurors for racially discriminatory reasons. Defendant disputes this determination.

Initially defendant claims that the assistant State's Attorneys' explanation of the "wish list" of characteristics for which they were searching was nothing more than a pretext for racial discrimination. The defendant points out that a number of jurors were not excused by the State even though they did not possess all of the features or traits set out in the prosecution's "wish list." On this basis, the defendant asserts that the State's reasons for excluding the prospective jurors were a pretext for racial discrimination. We disagree. The circumstance that the State accepted some jurors who did not possess all of the ideal attributes sought by the prosecutors does not establish that the prosecution engaged in racial discrimination in its use of peremptory challenges, nor does it demonstrate that the reasons given by the prosecutors were a pretext for discrimination. See People v. Kitchen (1994), 159 Ill. 2d 1, 21, 201 Ill. Dec. 1, 636 N.E.2d 433.

Defendant further asserts that the State's reasons were inadequate because the prosecution explained that its "wish list" of characteristics was based on certain assumptions about the nature and complexity of the evidence to be presented at the defendant's trial. Although the State's expressed concerns may have been overstated, the circumstance that the defendant's trial was not as long as the State had anticipated does not tend to the conclusion that the State's use of peremptory challenges violated the requirements of Batson. Similarly, whether the prosecutors were accurate in their assessment of the complexity of the evidence against the defendant or the instructions that would be given to the jury does not dictate the conclusion that the prosecutors excused prospective jurors because of their racial background.

The proper focus of inquiry in this appeal is whether the reasons provided by the prosecutors with respect to the five prospective jurors were pretextual. The trial court considered the specific bases provided by the State and found them valid grounds to exclude the jurors. In reviewing the propriety of the trial court's determinations with regard to the individual jurors, it is important to bear in mind that, in general, it is the province of the trial court to evaluate the credibility of the explanations offered by the prosecution at a Batson hearing, based on its observations during the course of voir dire and its assessment of the behavior of the prospective jurors and the prosecutors. ( People v. Ramey (1992), 151 Ill. 2d 498, 519, 177 Ill. Dec. 449, 603 N.E.2d 519.) Because the trial court is in a superior position to assess and evaluate the credibility of those involved in the proceeding, a trial court's determination with respect to a defendant's Batson claim is entitled to great deference and will be disturbed on appeal only if manifestly erroneous. People v. Hope (1992), 147 Ill. 2d 315, 321, 168 Ill. Dec. 103, 589 N.E.2d 503 (citing Batson, 476 U.S. at 98 n.21, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 89 n.21, 106 S. Ct. at 1724 n.21, and Hernandez, 500 U.S. at 364-65, 114 L. Ed. 2d at 409, 111 S. Ct. at 1869).

The prosecution's reason for excluding a prospective juror must consist of more than a bald assertion of nondiscriminatory motives or good faith on the part of the prosecutor. ( Batson, 476 U.S. at 98, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 88-89, 106 S. Ct. at 1723-24.) The State's explanation must be founded on a specific bias shown by the juror that relates to the case being tried. People v. Andrews (1993), 155 Ill. 2d 286, 293, 185 Ill. Dec. 499, 614 N.E.2d 1184, citing Batson, 476 U.S. at 98, 90 L. Ed. 2d at 88, 106 S. Ct at 1724.

The Supreme Court has directed that "unless a discriminatory intent is inherent in the prosecutor's explanation, the reason offered will be deemed race neutral." ( Hernandez, 500 U.S. at 360, 114 L. Ed. 2d at 406, 111 S. Ct. at 1866.) A prosecutor's race-neutral reasons may include such considerations as unemployment ( Andrews, 155 Ill. 2d at 301) or less than forthright answers to questions posed during voir dire ( People v. Hudson (1993), 157 Ill. 2d 401, 430, 193 Ill. Dec. 128, 626 N.E.2d 161). A prosecutor's suggestion that he has challenged a prospective juror because of demeanor, although acceptable as a race-neutral explanation, must be closely scrutinized; the prosecutor's perception of a juror's body language is subjective and may be easily used as a pretext for discrimination. ( Hudson, 157 Ill. 2d at 433; Ramey, 151 Ill. 2d at 520.) However, a venire member's improper demeanor may be a legitimate basis to exercise a peremptory challenge to exclude the prospective juror.

The objective of the trial court's hearing in the case at bar was to decide whether the State had valid, race-neutral reasons for its exercise of peremptory challenges with respect to the five jurors whom the defendant argued had been excluded because of their race.

Willie Smith

At voir dire, Smith had testified that he had lived in the Austin neighborhood for the last 10 years and that he had worked for the same company for the previous 11 years. Smith stated that his wife also worked, that he rented his home, and that he had two children, aged 27 and 25. Smith had never previously served on a jury.

At the Batson hearing, the prosecutors stated that they believed Smith would not be a serious juror because he had left unanswered six questions on his jury card. The trial court agreed that this was "an unusually high number, which the prosecutor believed indicated an inability to follow instructions, lack of interest, and inattention to detail." The court determined that "these reasons cited by the prosecutor are race neutral."

The trial court was correct to conclude that Smith's failure to answer questions on the jury card was a race-neutral reason for the prosecution's decision to exclude him from service. The record reflects that on his juror card, Smith did not state his age, his wife's occupation, or his wife's employer. Smith also did not reveal how many children he had or their ages. Importantly, Smith did not state whether he had ever served on a jury.

Particularly in view of the number of answers which Smith did not provide on his juror card, and in light of the importance of this information to an assessment of whether he should serve on a jury, it was reasonable for the State and the trial court to believe that Smith was not sufficiently detail-oriented. Smith's failure to answer several questions posed on the juror card reflected adversely on his competence to serve on the jury. ( People v. Baisten (1990), 203 Ill. App. 3d 64, 79, 148 Ill. Dec. 463, 560 N.E.2d 1060.) We find no manifest error in the trial court's conclusion with respect to this juror.

The defendant argues that the reason provided by the State was pretextual. The defendant claims that Smith "may have had some reason for not completing the jury card." We disagree. We discern no sound reason from the record for this prospective juror's failure to answer the questions asked on the juror card.

The defendant also suggests that, if the prosecution believed that the inadequacies of the juror card were significant, the State should have asked supplemental questions of Smith with respect to those questions left unanswered. The State's failure to pose additional questions does not lead to the conclusion that the reasons given by the State were a mere pretext for racial discrimination. Kitchen, 159 Ill. 2d at 20-21.

The defendant further notes that Smith provided all of the information requested of him during voir dire. The defendant's assertion lacks merit, however. Smith's failure to provide the required information on his juror card is equally as telling and significant as the nature of the information which he gave the court during voir dire. It was not unreasonable for the State to draw an unfavorable impression of this juror based upon the extent to which he failed to provide the necessary information on his juror card.

Lawrence Towns

During voir dire, Towns told the court that he had lived in the Roseland community for almost 20 years and that he worked for Sears. Towns stated that his wife also worked and that he owned his home. He testified that he had served on a robbery jury two years earlier, but that this would not affect his ability to serve impartially. Towns also stated that someone broke into his house four years ago and stole his car, no one was apprehended, and the incident would not affect his ability to be fair and impartial.

The State explained that it excused Towns because he had recently served on a jury during a robbery trial. The prosecutors believed that it might be too difficult or confusing for Towns to serve on defendant's jury in a felony murder trial. The prosecutors also believed that Towns had not been consistent in his answers on the jury card and his responses to the court during voir dire. For example, Towns' jury card indicated that he was unemployed. During voir dire, however, Towns stated that he worked for Sears. The State also believed there was a discrepancy because Town's jury card indicated that he had been involved in a lawsuit while he stated during voir dire that his brother-in-law had been involved in litigation.

The trial court accepted the prosecutor's explanations, reasoning that Towns might be confused after having served as a juror in a robbery case. The court also observed that Towns had been inconsistent in certain answers that he gave in voir dire as compared to the information he had provided on his juror card. The court noted that Towns "may have been unable to fully understand and follow instructions" and noted that the prosecutors believed he was "possibly confused or dishonest."

We question whether a prospective juror's past service on a jury in an armed robbery case would cause him to become confused if he were to serve on a jury in a case similar to defendant's. Under other circumstances, this basis, standing alone, may not be sufficient to justify the prosecution's exercise of a peremptory challenge of the juror. In the present cause, however, there was another adequate basis for the prosecution to exercise a peremptory challenge against prospective juror Towns. The record indicates that Towns was inconsistent and inaccurate in certain of his representations to the trial court. We agree with the trial court that this basis, also advanced by the State, was a proper race-neutral reason for its exclusion of Towns. As the trial court correctly concluded, lack of candor in answering the court's questions during voir dire is a valid ground to exercise a peremptory challenge. It is also acceptable to exclude a juror who appears to ...


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