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March 28, 1996


The Honorable Justice Miller delivered the opinion of the court:

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Miller

The Honorable Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant, Anton Brown, was convicted of three counts of first degree murder. At a separate sentencing hearing, the same jury found defendant eligible for the death penalty and further determined that there were no mitigating circumstances sufficient to preclude imposition of that sentence. Accordingly, the trial judge sentenced defendant to death. Defendant's death sentence has been automatically stayed pending direct review by this court. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, ยง 4(b); 134 Ill. 2d Rs. 603, 609(a). In this appeal, defendant raises numerous errors in various proceedings below as grounds for reversal in this court. For the reasons that follow, we affirm defendant's convictions and sentences.


On September 10, 1990, defendant was charged by indictment in the circuit court of Cook County with six counts of first degree murder. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, pars. 9-1(a)(1), (a)(2). The indictments were based on the September 2 and 3, 1990, murders of Aretha C. Phillips and her two children, Monique Belton, who was two years old at the time of death, and John Belton, Jr., who was three years old at the time of death.

The evidence at trial established that Gloria Wallace, Aretha's mother, attempted to call Aretha on September 4, 1990, on her beeper. However, another woman, whom Wallace did not recognize, answered the beeper. Wallace then called the police. She told the police that her daughter's apartment windows were open, but that she could not contact her daughter. Wallace asked the police to go to Aretha's apartment to look for her daughter. The police subsequently met Wallace at Aretha's apartment. On arriving at the apartment, Wallace found a note, which she testified she gave to the police, on the door of the apartment. The note was from Aretha's baby-sitter and stated that the baby-sitter was supposed to baby-sit for Aretha, but that Aretha did not show up. The police then knocked on the door, but there was no answer. Having no key of her own, Wallace begged the police to enter the apartment. The police refused, stating that they had no authority to enter or to allow her to enter. After Wallace told the police that she was fearful for her daughter's life because she had not seen or heard from her daughter for a couple of days and it was unusual for the apartment windows to be open, the police called the fire department for assistance.

Ronnie Herring, a Chicago fireman, received a call to assist police. When he arrived at the location, he was met by several police officers and the "mother of the girl they were looking for." He was told to enter the apartment and look around to see if anything was irregular. Herring placed a ladder up to a partially opened window on the second floor and climbed through the window. He found himself in a bedroom with two beds. He saw nothing unusual in either of the two bedrooms in the apartment. Herring then searched the rest of the apartment, and after finding nothing unusual, he asked the police if they wanted him to let them into the apartment. The police answered no, but asked Herring to look around again. After finding nothing unusual, Herring left the apartment the same way he had entered.

Later that same day, Wallace filed a missing person's report on Aretha and the two children. After filing the report, she also went over to the store where defendant, who lived with Aretha, worked to see if defendant has seen Aretha. Defendant's boss told Wallace that defendant had left, saying that he "was going to see his girlfriend." Defendant's boss gave Wallace defendant's employment application, and Wallace proceeded to go to the address defendant gave on the application. A woman at the address told Wallace that she did not know defendant. Wallace also made various other attempts to find Aretha, including attempting to speak with defendant's aunt, calling Aretha's friends and relatives, and looking in the alleys and dumpsters for her.

The following day Wallace and her husband returned to Aretha's apartment. Wallace's husband climbed into Aretha's apartment though an open window and then unlocked the front door to let Wallace in. Wallace went into Aretha's bedroom and saw a pile of clothes on the floor surrounded by flies. She attempted to pick up the clothes, but could not because there was something under them. She also testified that she saw blood under the clothes. Wallace then left the apartment and flagged down a police car. She told the police officer that she thought her daughter was dead and that she could not find her grandchildren. Wallace and the police officer returned to the apartment. Shortly thereafter, several other police officer's arrived at the scene.

After Officer Robert Johnson arrived at the apartment, he proceeded directly to the rear bedroom. In the bedroom, he saw a bundle of clothes. He subsequently looked under the clothes and saw a small portion of a woman's partially deteriorated face. Johnson then left the bedroom, secured the area, and called his supervisor, the crime lab, and detectives.

Detectives James O'Leary and James Redmond were assigned to the case. They went to the apartment and were met by Wallace and her husband. O'Leary then spoke with Johnson and proceeded to the rear bedroom of the apartment. O'Leary was directed to a pile of clothing on the floor. He observed the right arm of Aretha extending out from under the clothes. O'Leary then removed the top cover from the body and observed multiple stab wounds to the body. He covered the body and then went into the other bedroom. Meanwhile Johnson had entered the other bedroom and saw something wrapped in a shower curtain under one of the beds. He poked at the mass with a stick. He felt the bundle again after flipping the mattress over. Johnson then left the bedroom and notified the detectives. O'Leary proceeded to enter the bedroom and stick his hand into the shower curtain. He felt a shoulder and an arm and, after probing further, felt another shoulder and arm. O'Leary testified that he knew then that there were two children in the shower curtain.

After the crime lab and medical examiner had finished processing the bedroom where Aretha's body had been found, the detectives unwrapped the body. Aretha was dressed in a white nightgown. There was blood on the sheets and blanket, and there was a pillow with blood on it over her head. The detectives then proceeded to uncover the children. The two bodies were intertwined, and each child was only wearing white underwear. The bodies were beginning to decompose and, therefore, the detectives were unable to detect any notable injuries. The detectives then proceeded to examine the rest of the apartment. O'Leary testified that there was no damage to the locking device on the front door, but that part of the privacy lock on Aretha's bedroom door had been broken.

O'Leary then had a conversation with Wallace. O'Leary asked Wallace if anyone else lived in the apartment with Aretha and the children. Wallace gave O'Leary defendant's name and description. Wallace also told the detective where defendant might be found. Wallace testified that the police asked her if she had any idea who might have murdered the victims, and she gave them defendant's name and description. O'Leary also asked if there was anything in the apartment that might identify defendant or help the police find defendant. Wallace told O'Leary about a photo album that she had seen the week before. After looking through the album, Wallace told the detective that defendant's photograph was gone, pointing to a blank spot in the album where a photograph had apparently been removed. After the apartment had been processed, the detective asked Wallace if anything was missing from the apartment. Wallace stated that several pieces of property were missing, including Aretha's car, beeper, television, microwave, and stereo.

Detectives subsequently began their attempts to locate defendant. That evening, defendant was brought to the police station by his uncle, Officer Charles Maratre. Defendant was taken into custody and, after several interviews with police, confessed to the three murders. Testimony regarding the circumstances surrounding defendant's confession was substantially the same as that presented at the suppression hearing. Defendant's confession was read into the record.

Defendant stated that he had lived with Aretha at the apartment where her body was found on and off since June 1990. Defendant asserted that on September 2, 1990, he worked at Farmer's Market until 5 p.m. Before leaving work, he borrowed $50 dollars from his boss. After he left work, he bought some wine and cocaine with the money he had borrowed from his boss. He then went directly to Aretha's apartment. Aretha and the children arrived at the apartment around 7 p.m.

After dinner, defendant asked Aretha to dress the children so they could go out. Defendant wanted to visit a friend to borrow some money. Aretha dressed the children, and they all went out. Defendant first tried to borrow some money from a friend of his mother. When he was unsuccessful, defendant went to visit his aunt. Defendant's aunt gave him $5. At this point, Aretha and the children were in the car. Later, Aretha walked up to defendant and told him that she wanted to go home. Defendant and Aretha began to argue, and they eventually left after defendant's aunt told defendant to go home. Rather than go home, however, defendant went to visit his uncle at his store, but missed him because the store was closed. Defendant then drove home, stopping on the way to purchase $5 worth of gas. Defendant, Aretha, and the children returned home at approximately 9:15 or 9:30 that night.

After returning to the apartment, Aretha undressed the children and put them to bed. The children were wearing only their underwear. Aretha then went into her bedroom and put on a nightgown. Defendant later entered Aretha's bedroom, where an argument regarding drugs and money ensued between the two. Following the argument, Aretha rolled over like she was going to sleep.

Defendant proceeded to go into the kitchen and grab a knife. He then returned to the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. Aretha rolled over, and defendant stabbed her with the knife. Aretha screamed, and defendant stabbed her again. Aretha then began to cry, and defendant stabbed her again. Defendant stated that he did not know how many times he stabbed her, but thought that he stabbed her at least once in the neck.

Defendant next rinsed off the knife in the kitchen, placed the knife in a sock, put the sock in a garbage bag, and then threw the bag into a garbage chute outside. After disposing of the knife, defendant sat on the couch to think. He then returned to the bedroom and saw that Aretha was still breathing. Defendant placed a pillow over Aretha's face and held it there for a long time.

After placing the pillow over Aretha's face, defendant left the apartment. He proceeded to sell Aretha's beeper for $30 to someone downstairs. He also sold Aretha's television to another person for about $40. Defendant stated that he made these people go up to the apartment to get the television. Defendant then returned to the apartment and took the keys to Aretha's car. He locked the door to Aretha's bedroom before he left. Defendant next rented Aretha's car to somebody in exchange for some cocaine. Defendant then returned to the apartment and sat on the couch to think about what to do about the children. Defendant stated that he decided to leave the children in the apartment.

Defendant asserted that he went into the children's bedroom and saw that they were still sleeping. He then filled the bathtub with water. Defendant returned to the bedroom and picked up John. He carried the child into the bathroom, placed him in the bathtub, and "held him under the water for a long time." Defendant then repeated the process with Monique, carrying her into the bathroom and holding her under the water "for a long time." After Monique stopped breathing, defendant ripped the shower curtain down and wrapped the two children in it. He then placed the bodies under their bed.

Defendant next kicked in the door to Aretha's bedroom and wrapped Aretha's body in a quilt. He then moved the body to the floor and piled clothing on top of it. Defendant stated he hid the bodies because he was scared and did not want anyone to find them. At this point, it was daylight, and defendant began to get himself ready for work. Defendant then went to work. At the conclusion of his statement, defendant wrote "and regrets it all."

Defendant's aunt, Belinda Maratre, essentially corroborated the statements in defendant's confession regarding the defendant seeking to borrow money from her on the evening of September 2, 1990. The testimony of Corey Bender and Gary Parson also corroborated defendant's statements that he sold various pieces of Aretha's property.

At approximately 1 a.m. on September 3, 1990, Parson and Bernard Mitchell were in the breezeway under the Aretha's apartment building when defendant asked Mitchell if he was interested in buying a beeper. Mitchell purchased the beeper for $20. Shortly thereafter, Bender joined Parson and Mitchell in the breezeway. Defendant later approached the men again, this time inquiring if any of them wanted to buy a television. Bender responded that he was interested and asked where the television was. Defendant told Bender that it was at his house and took Bender and Mitchell up to the second floor of the apartment building. Defendant used a key to get into the apartment. Bender asked where the television was, and defendant answered that it was in the back bedroom. Defendant would not allow Bender to go with him to get the television. When Bender asked if he could use the bathroom, defendant told him no and then began closing all the doors in the apartment. When defendant returned with the television, Bender gave him $30 for it. Bender further testified that after giving defendant the money, defendant asked how he could get rid of three bodies.

Bender and Mitchell then left with the television and returned to the breezeway. A short time later, defendant returned to the breezeway and asked if anyone was interested in a car. Parsons indicated that he was and asked defendant if he could bring the car around to the parking lot so he could look at it. After defendant brought the car around, Parsons got in and looked at the car. Parsons then asked defendant for the title. When defendant could not find the title, Parsons told defendant that he did not want the car. Parsons testified that defendant then drove off.

Bender further testified that when he learned about the murders, he called police. The police eventually picked him up and took him to his apartment to get the television. On September 18, 1990, both Bender and Parsons viewed lineups and identified defendant.

A forensic pathologist testified that he concluded that the cause of death of Aretha was multiple stab wounds, but that he could not rule out suffocation as a possible cause of death or joint cause of death. There were a total of nine stab wounds on the body. The stab wounds were located on the face, head, neck, chest, back, arm, and hands of the body. All wounds were consistent with having been inflicted with a knife. The pathologist further testified that he concluded that the children died as a result of strangulation, but that he could not rule out drowning as an additional cause of death. The pathologist estimated that the time of death was between four to six days prior to his examination. He admitted that a more precise estimate could not be given because the bodies were seriously decomposed.

The theory of the defense was that Wallace was responsible for the murders. The defense introduced evidence that an order of protection had been entered against Wallace. The order protection restricted Wallace's access to Aretha and the children. Evidence was also presented that Aretha had made out a police report on April 20, 1990, alleging that Wallace had assaulted her. Moreover, Wallace testified that she had wanted Aretha to get defendant out of the apartment and away from the children. Wallace had told Aretha that defendant was no good because he was on drugs and was abusing Aretha. Wallace also testified that she told Aretha that she would keep trying until she got defendant out of Aretha's life. Wallace further testified, however, that on Mother's Day, Aretha had given her a card apologizing for taking her to court and embarrassing her. After that, Wallace stated, she saw Aretha almost every day, and when she did not see her, she would call Aretha on her beeper.

The defense also elicited testimony from various police officers that blood and other samples collected from Aretha's apartment were not tested to determine if they matched the defendant's blood and hair. Moreover, the only fingerprint lifted from the apartment did not match defendant's fingerprints.

Based on the evidence presented, the jury found defendant guilty of three counts of first degree murder. The same jury found defendant eligible for the death penalty. At the conclusion of the second stage of the sentencing hearing, the jury found that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of the death penalty. The judge accordingly sentenced defendant to death for the three murders.

Defendant raises numerous allegations of errors in this appeal. In the discussion that follows, we will generally consider these issues in the sequence in which they occurred in the proceedings below.


A. Suppression Hearing

Defendant contends that he did not receive effective assistance of counsel at a pretrial hearing to suppress defendant's confession. Defendant alleges that trial counsel was ineffective because counsel (1) failed to call a drug expert to explain the impact of drug addiction and cocaine withdrawal on defendant's ability to understand the voluntariness of his confession, and (2) failed to question a number of prosecution witnesses regarding defendant's physical appearance and mental state at the time defendant was taken into custody. Defendant alleges that had counsel presented such evidence, his confession would have been suppressed.

We first summarize the evidence at the suppression hearing. According to the State's testimony, defendant came to the police station on September 5, 1990, at about 9 p.m. At that time, he was placed in an interview room. Defendant was advised of his Miranda warnings and was questioned by O'Leary for approximately 20 minutes. Defendant was then placed in lockup.

At approximately 10:20 a.m. the following day, defendant was placed in an interview room. After being placed in the interview room, defendant was again informed of his Miranda warnings. O'Leary and Redmond then proceeded to question defendant. The interview was terminated 20 minutes later when defendant denied committing the murders.

At about 1 p.m., Detective Robert McGuire met with defendant. Defendant was given his Miranda warnings and asked whether he wished to speak to McGuire. Defendant agreed. McGuire testified that during the course of the interview defendant asked if there were any pictures of the crime scene and if he could see them. McGuire retrieved the photos and gave them to defendant. After being given the photos, defendant was given a Coke and a cigarette. Defendant then told McGuire that he wanted to confess. McGuire called O'Leary and Redmond into the room, and defendant subsequently explained how he had killed the victims. O'Leary and Redmond both denied ever telling defendant that his life was not "worth a nickel." They also testified that defendant never mentioned that he was undergoing cocaine withdrawal, nor did they observe any signs of withdrawal or physical trauma.

After defendant finished his statement, the Cook County State's Attorney's office was called. About 4 that afternoon, Assistant State's Attorneys John Mahoney and Michael Gerhardstein met with defendant. Present at this meeting were the two assistant State's Attorneys, defendant, and McGuire. Mahoney began the questioning by asking defendant how he was feeling and then advised defendant of his Miranda warnings. Defendant was asked whether he understood these rights. Defendant indicated that he did and that he would speak to them about the murders. The interview lasted about an hour.

Around 7:30 p.m., defendant reviewed a written version of his statement. He made corrections to the statement and then signed it. Defendant also signed the backs of photographs taken by the police of the victims' bodies to indicate where defendant had left the bodies. Defendant was then photographed. At the suppression hearing, Mahoney testified that defendant never asked for an attorney, nor was a statement ever made that his life was not worth a nickel. Mahoney further stated that there was nothing unusual about defendant's physical appearance that would indicate he was undergoing cocaine withdrawal.

Testimony was further elicited that detectives involved in defendant's ease received awards from the Chicago police department commending them for their work in defendant's case. The award was signed by the commander of the Area One Violent Crimes, Detective Division, Frederick B. Miller, and stated, in part, that after "persistent interrogation" defendant began to make incriminating statements and, after applying "skillful psychological technique," defendant confessed. Miller testified that Sergeant John Ridges submitted the application for the award for his signature, and he therefore could not describe the "skillful psychological skills" that the award referred to or what was meant by the terms "persistent interrogation." Redmond, who received one of the awards, also testified that he did not know the basis of the opinion that "skillful psychological techniques" had been used, nor did he believe that such techniques had been used.

Ridges testified that he recommended that the detectives should receive the award because of the exceptional job they had done in investigating the case that culminated in defendant's confession. Ridges explained that the phrase "skillful psychological techniques" was probably a poor choice of words, but that he tried to summarize a series of events that resulted in defendant's confession. He stated that the reference to "persistent interrogation" was obtained from reports indicating that defendant had been questioned two or three times.

In support of the motion to suppress, defendant's uncle, Charles Maratre, testified that he brought defendant to the police station after being told by defendant's mother that the police wanted to question defendant about the murders. Maratre picked defendant up to take him to the police station at approximately 4:30 p.m. Maratre described defendant as being tired and intoxicated. On cross-examination, Maratre said that he told defendant why he was being taken to the police station and that defendant understood what he was saying. Maratre also stated that defendant asked him questions on the ride over to the station and that the questions made sense. He further testified that defendant was able to get into his car unassisted and was able to walk up the stairs at the police station by himself.

Defendant also testified at the suppression hearing to a version of events different than those the police testified to. Defendant stated that on September 5, 1990, he was at a friend's house getting "high" on cocaine, marijuana and been He recalled having about three or four 40-ounce containers of beer and testified that he had "over a hundred dollars worth" or one gram of cocaine. He did not remember how much marijuana he had smoked. While at his friend's house, he called his mother and was told that the police wanted to question him. After speaking with his mother, defendant testified that he continued to get high.

Defendant further asserted that once at the station, Redmond told him, "Look, we know you did it. Her mother told us you did it, so why don't [you] tell us to make it easier on yourself because if you go back on the street, [your] life wouldn't be worth a nickel." He also stated that he was not given his Miranda warnings and that he did ask for an attorney. Defendant testified that when he asked for an attorney Redmond asked whether defendant could afford one. Defendant testified that he then asked to speak with his mother because he could not afford an attorney. Redmond responded that nothing could be done for defendant now. After that exchange, Redmond began asking defendant questions about the murders saying things like "I won't rest until you tell the truth about what happened" and that "[Aretha and the children] would forgive you if [you] told the truth about the incident."

Defendant further testified that about an hour after that conversation ended, Redmond returned and did not give defendant any Miranda warnings. At this time, Redmond had photos of the victims' bodies and essentially told him the same things as before. Defendant also stated that when he was returned to lock-up, he overheard Redmond tell a guard not to permit defendant to have a phone call. Defendant further testified that when he spoke with McGuire he was not given his Miranda rights and that he was sick to his stomach, light-headed, cold and confused. He further claimed that he did not remember speaking with the assistant State's Attorneys. On cross-examination, defendant testified that he understood the conversation he had with his mother and that he further understood why his uncle was taking him to the police station. He also stated that the signature on the confession looked like his signature, but he did not remember signing it.

In rebuttal, both Redmond and McGuire testified that defendant was given his Miranda warnings and denied that defendant ever asked for an attorney. They further denied making any of the statements defendant attributed to them. Moreover, both Redmond and McGuire asserted that defendant did not appear to be ill, nor did defendant complain of being ill. Based on the evidence presented at the suppression hearing the trial judge denied defendant's motion to suppress.

In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674, 104 S. Ct. 2052 (1984), the United States Supreme Court established a two-prong test for considering ineffective-assistance claims. See also People v. Albanese, 104 Ill. 2d 504, 525-26, 85 Ill. Dec. 441, 473 N.E.2d 1246 (1984). To succeed on an ineffective-assistance claim, a defendant must establish that counsel's performance was deficient and that the deficient performance was prejudicial to the defense. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687, 80 L. Ed. 2d at 693, 104 S. Ct. at 2064. To establish prejudice, a defendant "must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694, 80 L. Ed. 2d at 698, 104 S. Ct. at 2068. A reviewing court "need not determine whether counsel's performance was deficient before examining the prejudice suffered by the defendant as a result of the alleged deficiencies." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697, 80 L. Ed. 2d at 699, 104 S. Ct. at 2069.

Assuming that trial counsel was deficient for failing to call a drug expert to testify and for failing to question the prosecution's witnesses about defendant's state at the time he was arrested, we do not believe that defendant was prejudiced as a consequence of these alleged deficiencies in counsel's representation. The State's evidence at the suppression hearing consisted primarily of testimony from detectives and an assistant State's Attorney who had questioned defendant while in custody. All the witnesses testified that defendant did not show symptoms of undergoing cocaine withdrawal, nor did defendant ever mention that he was ill. Moreover, defendant's own testimony, as well as his uncle's, showed that defendant was lucid and understood why he was being taken to the police station for questioning. The State further presented evidence that defendant was given his Miranda warnings on various occasions and that defendant expressed his desire to speak with the police and an assistant State's Attorney. The trial judge found the State's witnesses to be more credible and denied the motion to suppress. The evidence that defendant made his statement's "freely, voluntarily and without compulsion or inducement of any sort" was compelling. People v. Clark, 114 Ill. 2d 450, 457, 103 Ill. Dec. 102, 501 N.E.2d 123 (1986). Since the State had already made clear that defendant did not show signs of cocaine withdrawal, we do not believe that there is a reasonable probability that the motion to suppress ...

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