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09/21/95 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. RONALD BURT

September 21, 1995

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE,
v.
RONALD BURT, APPELLANT.



The Honorable Justice Nickels delivered the opinion of the court:

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nickels

JUSTICE NICKELS delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant, Ronald Burt, was charged with first degree murder and other offenses relating to the January 16, 1992, shooting deaths of H. Steven Roy and Kevin Muto. A jury was empaneled to hear the charges in the circuit court of Stephenson County. On the fourth day of trial, prior to the presentation of any defense, defendant changed his plea from not guilty to guilty. On the basis of this plea, defendant was convicted of two counts each of first degree murder and armed robbery. At a separate sentencing hearing, the same jury found defendant eligible for the death penalty pursuant to the multiple-murder aggravating factor. (See 720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(3)(West 1992).) The jury further determined that there were no mitigating circumstances sufficient to preclude imposition of that sentence and defendant was sentenced to death. (720 ILCS 5/9-1(g)(West 1992).) Defendant's death sentence has been stayed pending direct appeal to this court. (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 134 Ill. 2d Rules 603, 609(a).) We affirm.

BACKGROUND

H. Steven Roy operated a farm in Stephenson County. Roy rented the farm from James Erwin, who lived on a neighboring farm. Erwin testified that he saw a strange van parked near Roy's house on the morning of January 16, 1992. He testified that he observed some commotion around the van, with someone apparently attempting to brush their feet through the snow to cover the vans tracks as it exited the farm. As the van passed Erwin's farm, he observed three individuals in the van. Later that afternoon, Erwin and another neighbor checked on Roy and discovered the body of Kevin Muto in a bedroom. Muto worked as a farmhand for Roy. Roy's body was subsequently discovered in a separate bedroom. Both had been shot.

The following day, defendant was arrested in connection with these crimes. Detective Rocco Wagner interviewed defendant. Defendant initially maintained that he knew nothing about the crimes. After the detective told defendant that they already had information concerning his involvement from Dannie Booth and David Craig, defendant began to discuss the events leading up to the deaths of Roy and Muto. This discussion was eventually memorialized in a three-page written statement.

In this initial written statement, defendant described how Booth, who was 14 years old, woke him up early that morning, requesting that he take Booth to Roy's farm. Booth claimed that Roy owed him $500 for work he had performed on the farm. Defendant and Booth then contacted Craig, who agreed to drive them to Roy's farm in exchange for $100. The statement then described how the three of them obtained some gasoline and proceeded to Roy's farm.

When defendant, Booth and Craig arrived at the farm, Roy invited them into his home. Defendant and Craig retired to another room to sleep, but they were awakened by an argument between Booth and Roy. Craig then began to search through Roy's belongings, discovering a double-barrel twelve-gauge shotgun, a .22-caliber rifle and some shells in a closet. Roy and Booth entered the room and found defendant holding the rifle. Defendant pointed the gun at Roy and demanded his wallet. Booth took the wallet and found $7 inside. Defendant then ordered Roy to walk to a back bedroom.

According to the statement, defendant and Booth followed Roy to the bedroom. Craig remained in the hallway. In the bedroom, Roy and Booth again began to argue. Defendant then shoved Roy onto the bed. When Roy moved, defendant shot him in the back of the head because he thought Roy may try to "pull something." Booth then took the rifle and shot Roy in the back several times. Defendant, Booth and Craig then took a VCR and some meat from Roy's refrigerator. At that time they were interrupted by a knock on the back door.

Kevin Muto, an 18-year-old farmhand, was at the back door. Booth answered the door and told Muto that Roy was sleeping and did not want to be disturbed. When Muto refused to leave, Booth called defendant to the door and took the gun from him. According to defendant's statement, Booth then walked Muto to a second bedroom and took his wallet. Booth then ordered Muto to lay on the floor and shot him in the back of the head and the back. Defendant then took the rifle and shot Muto in the back. Defendant, Booth and Craig then left the house with the meat, the VCR, a gun and some of Roy's personal checks. These items were later used to obtain drug money. As they left the driveway, Booth scuffed the snow with his feet to cover the tire tracks.

On January 18, defendant provided a tape-recorded statement in which defendant gave essentially the same story. Defendant stated that he shot Roy first. Defendant stated that he and Craig then discussed shooting Booth because they feared he would disclose what had happened. Having heard this, Booth then took the rifle from defendant and shot Roy several more times. In the tape-recorded statement, defendant again stated he shot Muto in the back only after Booth shot Muto in the head and back.

On January 24, defendant initiated a second tape-recorded statement. In this statement, defendant claimed that he had not shot Muto. Instead, defendant claimed that Booth alone was responsible for that killing. Defendant claimed that he had previously stated that he shot Muto only to protect Booth, because he was so young. Defendant claimed that he changed his mind about protecting Booth after finding that Booth was blaming defendant for "the whole thing."

Prior to trial, the State filed a motion in limine to exclude the January 24 statement. The State argued that this statement was self-serving and not reliable. The trial court granted the State's motion, finding that the statement was unreliable hearsay. Defense counsel clarified on the record that the court's ruling applied only to the trial, not sentencing. The court advised defense counsel that he could renew any objections at the sentencing hearing and the court would pass on the objection at that time. Defense counsel did not attempt to introduce this statement at defendant's sentencing hearing.

Defendant also filed several pretrial motions. Defendant filed a motion seeking the appointment of a mitigation specialist. This motion specifically sought to appoint David Randall, M.A., to perform a "life history" investigation. The trial court denied the motion, ruling that such a mitigation specialist would duplicate the work done by a psychologist or psychiatrist, and the investigator that the court had previously appointed.

Defendant also filed several motions to secure the testimony of several out-of-state witnesses for purposes of presenting this testimony at the mitigation phase of sentencing. Defendant sought to secure the testimony of Robert Burt, Mary Burt and Steve Holcomb. Robert Burt, who lived in California, is defendant's younger brother. Mary Burt, who lived in Texas, is defendant's grandmother. Steve Holcomb, who lived in Arkansas, is defendant's stepfather. The trial court refused to compel the attendance of these witnesses, finding that the defendant had failed to make a showing of the materiality of the witnesses' testimony. Robert Burt and Steve Holcomb did not testify at defendant's sentencing hearing. The jury heard videotaped testimony from Mary Burt.

Prior to defendant's midtrial pleas of guilty, the State presented testimony from a variety of witnesses. These included James Berning, a deputy sheriff, who testified about his arrest of defendant. Berning also testified that he recovered Roy's driver's license and five of his checkbooks from defendant's car. Steven Carrol, a jailor with the Stephenson County sheriff's department, testified that he recovered a pen from defendant's shirt pocket imprinted with the name "H.S. Roy." Barbara Franks, a Rockford supermarket clerk, testified that on January 17, 1992, defendant attempted to cash a check purported to have been signed by Roy.

The State also presented evidence from the officers that took defendant's statements. Detective Wagner testified regarding defendant's type-written statement obtained on January 17, 1992, in which defendant admitted his involvement in the killings. Deputy Sheriff Wishard testified concerning the tape-recorded interview with defendant that occurred on January 18, 1992. Wishard also identified a drawing defendant made showing the layout of the house and identifying the location of each person at the time of Roy's murder.

Dr. Larry Blum testified concerning the autopsies he performed on Roy and Muto. Dr. Blum testified that Roy died from four gunshot wounds to the head. Dr. Blum also testified that a gunshot wound to Roy's back was a contributing cause of his death. Dr. Blum testified that the Muto died from two gunshot wounds to the head. Blum also testified that the two gunshot wounds to Muto's back were contributing causes of his death.

After four days of trial, defendant abruptly changed his plea from not guilty to guilty on the charges of first degree murder and armed robbery. Prior to accepting defendant's pleas, the court admonished defendant concerning the consequences of his pleading guilty to the charges. After the conclusion of the sentencing hearing, defendant moved to vacate his guilty pleas, arguing that the court's admonishments were defective and therefore his guilty pleas were not knowingly entered. Additional facts concerning the hearing on defendant's pleas will be presented as necessary to meet defendant's challenges on appeal.

With the defendant having been convicted on the basis of his pleas, the State then sought to prove defendant eligible for the death penalty pursuant to two aggravating factors. First, the State sought to prove defendant was eligible for the death penalty under the multiple-murder aggravating factor. (See 720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(3) (West 1992).) Second, the State sought to prove defendant eligible for the death penalty pursuant to the murder in the course of another felony aggravating factor. (See 720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(6) (West 1992).) The jury returned a verdict finding defendant eligible for the death penalty only under the multiple-murder aggravating factor.

Defendant's death penalty hearing then proceeded to the consideration of matters in aggravation. The State presented two witnesses. The State first presented the testimony of Detective Steven Kudzma. Detective Kudzma testified concerning a statement he took from defendant after his arrest in which defendant admitted his involvement in two burglaries in Winnebego County. Detective Kudzma testified that he read defendant his Miranda warnings and that defendant agreed to waive those rights and provide a statement. On cross-examination, Detective Kudzma admitted that he did not inquire as to whether defendant was represented by an attorney. Defendant argues on appeal that the introduction of this statement during his sentencing hearing violated his sixth amendment right to counsel.

The State also presented testimony from Leonard Bond, a correctional officer at the Stateville prison. Bond testified that during a routine shakedown of defendant's prison cell, a homemade knife was discovered. On cross-examination, Bond testified that the discovery of such contraband in prison is a common occurrence, as many inmates manufacture such items for their personal safety.

In addition to this testimony, the State introduced certified copies of the records of defendant's prior convictions. The records indicate that in 1984 defendant was convicted of obstructing a police officer in Winnebago County. Also in 1984, defendant was convicted of robbery in Ogle County. In 1989, defendant received two convictions for retail theft and one conviction for obstructing a police officer in Winnebago County. Also in 1989, defendant was convicted of forgery in Peoria County and for burglary in Fulton County. In 1990, defendant was convicted in Winnebago County of the offense of escape.

Defendant presented the testimony of seven witnesses in mitigation. Roxie Pingel, defendant's aunt, described defendant as anxious and hyperactive. Pingel testified that defendant assisted with chores and looked after his sister during his childhood. Pingel also testified that defendant was "knocked around" by his mother's boyfriends. Sheila Holcomb, defendant's half-sister, also testified concerning defendant's hyperactivity and troubled home life. Sheila testified that her parents often abused alcohol and that her father abused other drugs. Sheila also testified that her brother often protected her from the beatings of her mother's boyfriends.

A videotaped statement was admitted from defendant's grandmother, Mary Burt. In this statement, Mary discussed the death of defendant's father when defendant was an infant, and how after this death defendant's mother began to abuse alcohol. Mary further testified that defendant's mother did not take adequate care of him after this time. Mary also discussed abuse that defendant suffered from his mother and stepfather, Steve Holcomb. Mary also believed that Holcomb had introduced defendant to drugs and alcohol at a young age.

Misty Young, a former girlfriend of defendant, and Colleen Hada, Young's mother, testified concerning defendant's violent home life and drug addiction. Young testified that she lived across the street from defendant and that he was regularly beaten by his mother's boyfriend when he attempted to intervene in their violent episodes. Young also testified that defendant was addicted to drugs, that he attempted to quit several times, and that he suffered serious withdrawal episodes. Hada testified that defendant had been a great help to her family. Hada testified that defendant assisted her with her retarded granddaughter and ran errands for the family.

Another former girlfriend, Leslie Perkins, also testified in mitigation. Perkins is the mother of defendant's son. Perkins testified that defendant is a good father. Perkins also testified that she lived for a time with defendant in his mother's home. During this time, she observed the violence that occurred between defendant and his mother and her boyfriend. Perkins described defendant's conflicts with his mother's boyfriend as shoving matches. Perkins also testified that defendant used drugs and attempted suicide several times during their relationship.

Dr. Linda Wetzel, a clinical psychologist, provided expert testimony for the defense. Dr. Wetzel reviewed defendant's school records, medical reports and family history. Dr. Wetzel also performed a battery of neuropsychological tests on defendant. From this investigation, Dr. Wetzel concluded that defendant suffered from frontal lobe brain impairment. Dr. Wetzel testified that this condition was caused by defendant's attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the cumulative effect of closed head injuries defendant suffered throughout his life. Dr. Wetzel also testified that defendant has an IQ of 79, placing on the "borderline range of intelligence." As a result of these impairments, Dr. Wetzel concluded that defendant was suffering from an extreme mental and emotional disturbance at the time of the offenses.

After considering this evidence, the jury determined that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of the death penalty. (720 ILCS 5/9-1(g) (West 1992).) Defendant was sentenced to death. (720 ILCS 5/9-1(g) (West 1992).) The trial court denied defendant's post-trial motions for a new trial and sentencing hearing. Defendant seeks review of his conviction and sentence in this court. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 4(b); 134 Ill. 2d Rules 603, 609(a).

ISSUES

On appeal, defendant raises only one challenge to his conviction. Defendant argues that his guilty pleas should be vacated because the trial court's admonishments were defective and therefore his pleas were not knowingly entered. Specifically, defendant argues that the trial court's admonishments were defective for three reasons. First, the trial court failed to adequately inform him that natural life imprisonment is the mandatory minimum sentence that could be imposed. Second, the trial court failed to inform defendant that he ...


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