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April 3, 1996


Presiding Justice Hopkins delivered the opinion of the court: Maag, J., and Goldenhersh, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hopkins

PRESIDING JUSTICE HOPKINS delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant, Michael E. Strader, appeals from a verdict of guilty of the first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1 (West 1992)) of Donnell Awalt (Donnell) and the attempted first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/8-4 (West 1992)) of Matthew Pike (Matthew). Defendant was sentenced to consecutive terms of 60 years' imprisonment on the murder charge and 30 years' imprisonment on the attempted murder charge. On appeal, we consider whether defendant was denied a fair trial by the court's refusal to allow his expert witness to testify, whether the court erred in certain other evidentiary rulings, whether the court abused its discretion in sentencing defendant to consecutive terms of imprisonment, and whether the sentences are excessive. For reasons we will more fully explain, we affirm.


The trial of this cause lasted from January 18 through January 31, 1994. The prosecution called 23 witnesses in its case-in-chief and seven rebuttal witnesses. Defendant called 15 witnesses. Defendant confessed murdering Donnell and shooting Matthew. The prosecution played a videotape of defendant's confession for the jury without objection from defendant. Although defendant admitted the murder and the shooting, he alleged both the intoxication defense (720 ILCS 5/6-3 (West 1992)) and the defense of "acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation," the second-degree murder defense (720 ILCS 5/9-2(a)(1) (West 1992)). The court instructed the jury on both the intoxication defense and on second-degree murder.

The pertinent evidence can be summarized as follows: Defendant dated Donnell for about a year and a half, until about a month before the murder, when they stopped dating on a regular basis. At the time of the shooting, defendant was 19 years old and Donnell was 18 years old. Defendant's trial witnesses testified that defendant and the victim continued to date occasionally in the month before the murder. The State's witnesses testified that the relationship ended completely, but that defendant continued to harass and threaten the victim.

On Saturday, August 1, 1992, defendant began drinking beer at around 2 o'clock in the afternoon. That evening, he continued to drink beer as he drove around with three other young people for several hours, after which they went to the Livingston homecoming, where defendant continued to drink beer. Several witnesses who saw defendant at the homecoming testified that defendant appeared to be intoxicated; he staggered, giggled, and slurred his words. Defendant's sister felt that defendant was too drunk to drive home, so she drove him home before midnight. Sometime after defendant arrived home, he loaded a .22-calibre rifle with a clip of seven shells and loaded one of the shells into the chamber of the gun.

After defendant arrived at his house, he called Donnell. Matthew testified that he was there with Donnell when she received the call. According to Matthew, defendant yelled so loudly that Matthew overheard what defendant was saying. According to Matthew, defendant said that he was going to come over to Donnell's house to "take care of business." Donnell finally hung up the phone at Matthew's request. Shortly after the phone call, defendant arrived at Donnell's house. Matthew testified that defendant ran out of his car waving a rifle in the air. Matthew told Donnell to lock the door to her two-year-old daughter's room. Matthew went outside to talk to defendant. In the meantime, Donnell called her uncle, Tim Simmons. Simmons testified that he received a call from Donnell at 12:50 a.m. on August 2, 1992. Donnell told Simmons that defendant was at her house with a gun, and she also told Simmons, "he is going to kill us all."

According to Matthew, Donnell came outside shortly after Matthew. Donnell began arguing loudly with defendant. Matthew testified that defendant was waving the rifle in the air but had not yet fired it. Donnell told defendant that if he was going to shoot them, to go ahead and do it. She slapped defendant and knocked him to the ground. Defendant got back up and Donnell slapped him again. Donnell and Matthew turned to go inside the house. Matthew testified that defendant asked Donnell who she would choose, Matthew or defendant. According to Matthew, Donnell turned around and said that it sure would not be defendant, because defendant always hurt her. Defendant then started shooting the rifle. Donnell was hit once in the neck and once in the back. Matthew was hit once in the neck, once in the shoulder, and once in the groin. Donnell died as a result of the bullet in her back. Matthew was treated and released from the hospital the next day but came back a few weeks later for outpatient surgery to remove a bullet.

After defendant left Donnell's house, he drove back to his house, got a .12-gauge shotgun, and reloaded the rifle. One witness testified that after defendant was arrested, he stated that the purpose of getting the shotgun and reloading the rifle was to "finish" the job. Another witness testified: "[Defendant] went home to get a .12 gauge to go back to Donnell's to finish her and Matt off and Samantha [Donnell's daughter]. By the time he got back *** there was a cop there so he kept going and went straight [to his friend's, Brian Orloski's, house]." After defendant went to Orloski's house, Orloski drove defendant to the police station, where defendant turned himself in.

Defendant was arrested and transported to the Madison County Sheriff's Department. Defendant was interviewed at 2:45 a.m. and gave a videotaped statement at 4:17 a.m. on August 2, 1992. Several of the law enforcement personnel who saw defendant after the shooting testified that defendant did not appear intoxicated to them. After defendant gave his videotaped statement, defendant was given two breathalyzer tests. Both tests showed that defendant had a blood alcohol content of .15 at approximately 5:25 a.m. on August 2, 1992.

Joseph Kayich, Jr., testified that he was an inmate at the Madison County jail on August 2, 1992, and that he shared a jail cell with defendant that day and the next. Kayich testified that defendant told him that he was drinking before the shooting, but that the alcohol had nothing to do with the shooting.

One of defendant's expert witnesses, Dr. Walter Christopher Long, testified that Donnell and Matthew had blood alcohol contents of .119 and .11, respectively, at the time of the incident. Dr. Long also calculated that defendant's blood alcohol content at the time of the incident was probably between .22 and .24. Dr. Long testified that Donnell's blood alcohol content would have given her a feeling of well being and a tendency to take greater risks than normal. According to Dr. Long, if defendant's blood alcohol content were between .22 and .24 at the time of the incident, defendant's vision, balance, and hearing would have been impaired, and defendant's fine motor skills would have been impaired. Dr. Long stated that pulling the trigger of a gun is not a fine motor skill, but that hitting your target might be.

Long testified that a functioning alcoholic is one who can stand and walk with a blood alcohol content of .20 or higher. According to Long, a functioning alcoholic can learn to do many things without appearing intoxicated, but that the central nervous system of even a functioning alcoholic will be impaired when the blood alcohol content is over .20. Long concluded that if defendant had a blood alcohol content of approximately .23 at the time of the incident, his power of reasoning would have been suspended. Long added that defendant's power of reasoning would have been impaired if his blood alcohol content were as low as .15 at the time of the incident. The ...

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