The Honorable Justice Harrison delivered the opinion of the court:
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harrison
JUSTICE HARRISON delivered the opinion of the court:
In the circuit court of Williamson County the defendant, Paul E. Taylor, entered a plea of guilty on June 9, 1992, to a charge of having committed the offense of first degree murder on or about January 18, 1992, while he committed a forcible felony, namely, an aggravated criminal sexual assault (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)(3)). On October 8, 1992, a jury found the 21-year-old defendant eligible for a death sentence pursuant to section 9-1(b)(6) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 38, par. 9-1(b)(6)) and, following a hearing concerning factors in aggravation and mitigation (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 38, par. 9-1(c)), returned a verdict on October 15, 1992, finding that there are no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude its imposition. Accordingly, the circuit court sentenced defendant to death. The cause comes directly to this court for review (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 134 Ill. 2d R. 603), where defendant presents seven issues related to his sentencing.
Initially defendant contends that at sentencing he was denied the right to a fair and impartial jury for two reasons: because the circuit court erroneously seated a juror, Darryl Rendleman, who had formed an opinion to vote for a death sentence prior to hearing evidence and because the court erroneously excused a prospective juror, Doris McAnally, who was reluctant to vote for a death sentence.
With respect to the juror Rendleman, during defense counsel's examination of him the venireman expressed the view that the death penalty should apply to cases of "cold-blooded murder," described by him as those that occur for "no apparent reason," an example of which he gave as murder that occurs during the commission of another crime. When defense counsel asked, "There wasno apparent reason for [defendant] to kill [the victim in this case]. So are you predisposed at this time to give the death penalty under the charge that [defendant] has already pled guilty to?" the juror responded in the affirmative. Later, the following exchange between defense counsel and the venireman took place:
"Q. *** My initial question is have you formed an opinion as you sit there right now without ever hearing any evidence in this case from this Court?
Q. So one side is starting out at an advantage as we sit here right now?
Q. What do you mean by yes and no?
A. Because I still haven't heard all the whole thing, the whole situation.
Q. Is it going to take considerable evidence to change your mind?
Q. What types of things would you look at in deciding that the death penalty should be imposed?
A. A lot of background circumstances.
Q. On those two points when you say background, what are you referring to, sir?
A. What kind of things have happened in a person's past, how much trouble they have been into.
Q. *** Is there anything in someone's background that you would look to in the decision that the death penalty should not be given?
Q. None whatsoever. You can think of no factor in a person's background that would convince you that a death penalty should not be given?
Q. No matter what kind of life they have led. That would not come into play in any way whatsoever in your determination as to whether or not you would give the death penalty?
Q. So you have only to look to a person's background in deciding to go ahead and give the death penalty but not in deciding not to give the death penalty?
On the basis of these answers defense counsel then asked that the venireman be excused for cause.
In response the circuit court addressed the venireman, essentially explaining the nature of evidence in mitigation and in aggravation as well as the need for a juror to weigh "each piece of evidence" offered by both the State and the defendant. In so doing, the court explained to the venireman that
"the jury does not just take the act itself of the killing to consider whether [the defendant] should receive the death punishment. They also must consider what kind of a young man he has been, the kind of home that he has had. Things that might have contributed to his being of a frame of mind to permit the killing. That's mitigation."
Thereafter, in answer to a number of questions by the court, the venireman indicated unequivocally that he could vote either to impose the death penalty or not to do so, depending upon "the evidence and the law." Defense counsel subsequently questioned the venireman further at length, eliciting answers entirely consistent with those just given to the court. At the conclusion of defense counsel's questioning of him, however, the following colloquy between the venireman, defense counsel, and the court ensued:
"[Defense counsel]: Mr. Rendleman, if your son was sitting here right now picking a jury to decide whether he would live or die, do you feel he would receive a fair trial from someone thinking ...