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March 21, 1996


The Honorable Justice McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court: Justice Harrison took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mcmorrow

The Honorable Justice McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant, Eric D. Daniels, appeals from his conviction and death penalty sentence, contending that he was denied a fair trial because he was allowed only seven peremptory challenges to prospective jurors instead of the 14 specified for capital cases under Supreme Court Rule 434(d) (134 Ill. 2d R. 434(d)). Defendant also argues that the trial court compounded its error by refusing to excuse for cause a prospective juror who knew and had experience with the lead prosecutor in defendant's trial. The same prosecutor helped to obtain the conviction of a person accused of sexually assaulting that venire member's children. The trial court in the case at bar refused to excuse the challenged venire member for cause; accordingly, defense counsel was compelled to exercise one of his peremptory challenges against the venire member. Because we agree that defendant was entitled to 14 peremptory challenges under Rule 434(d) and that the court's refusal to allow the greater number of challenges constituted reversible error under the circumstances of this case, we reverse and remand for new trial.


Defendant was convicted of a 1993 murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and armed robbery that took place at the Charter House Inn in Champaign, Illinois. The victim of the attack, Michelle Davis, was working at the motel as night clerk. In the early morning hours of July 22, 1993, Davis' nude body was discovered. The cash register was empty. Shotgun pellets and wadding were found at the crime scene and in the victim's fatal wounds. The autopsy revealed evidence of sexual intercourse and trauma to the victim's vagina. DNA testing indicated that blood spots found on defendant's clothing were consistent with the victim's genetic profile. Semen samples recovered from the victim's body were tested. The results indicated that the semen could have come from defendant or the victim's boyfriend, who testified to having engaged in consensual sexual intercourse with Davis at approximately 6 p.m. on the evening of July 21, 1993.

In the course of the police investigation, officers arrested defendant and searched his apartment. There, police found two shotguns and a box of shotgun shells. Defendant claimed he had found the guns on July 22, 1993. The weapons were found to be in working order, but a forensic scientist testified at trial he could neither identify nor eliminate either shotgun as having fired the shots recovered at the crime scene. However, evidence indicated that the shot pellets taken from Davis' body were manufactured from the same batch of lead as the shot pellets taken from defendant's apartment.

Defendant admitted going to the charter House Inn the evening before and the morning of the homicide. According to defendant, the victim consented to having sexual intercourse with him during the evening of July 21 while she was on duty. Defendant claimed he then left, planning to return later to rob the motel, and when he did return, at approximately 5 a.m. on July 22, he gained entry through an unlocked basement door. Defendant said he met a man known to him as "T," with whom defendant discussed robbing the motel. Defendant claimed that "T" instead ordered defendant to leave. According to defendant, he left the motel without participating in any criminal activity.

The jury returned verdicts of guilty on all charges. The trial court found defendant eligible for the death penalty because the murder of Davis occurred in the course of aggravated criminal sexual assault and armed robbery. After a hearing in aggravation and mitigation, the trial court sentenced defendant to death for the first degree murder conviction and to concurrent extended terms of 60 years' imprisonment for the other convictions. Notice of appeal was timely filed.



Defendant argues that he was denied a fair trial and due process of law because the trial court permitted him only 7 peremptory challenges rather than the 14 challenges required in capital cases by Supreme Court Rule 434(d). In response, the State argues that because defendant waived his right to a jury for the sentencing phase of trial at the time of the voir dire, the instant cause is not a "capital case" within the meaning of our Rule 434(d).

Rule 434(d) provides, in pertinent part:

"A defendant tried alone shall be allowed 14 peremptory challenges in a capital case, 7 in a case in which the punishment may be imprisonment in the penitentiary, and 5 in all other cases ***." 134 Ill. 2d R. 434(d).

Defendant contends that this rule clearly and unambiguously entitles an accused in his position to exercise 14 peremptory challenges; therefore, no exceptions, limitations, or conditions should be read in. See, e.g., People v. Goins, 119 Ill. 2d 259, 265, 116 Ill. Dec. 193, 518 N.E.2d 1014 (1988). According to defendant, a capital case does not lose its character as a death penalty prosecution simply because the defendant waives his or her right to have a jury determine if the death penalty should be imposed. Defendant further states that numerous defendants on trial in capital cases in Illinois have retained the right to the greater number of peremptory challenges despite having entered pretrial waivers of the jury for sentencing. In support, defendant includes in his brief a listing of eight death penalty cases from three counties in which the trial courts granted either the 14 peremptories allowed by our rule or the 20 peremptories allowed by section 115-4(e) of the Code of ...

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