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01/23/98 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. ELTON L. WILLIAMS

January 23, 1998

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE,
v.
ELTON L. WILLIAMS, APPELLANT.



Chief Justice Freeman delivered the opinion of the court.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Freeman

CHIEF JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Will County, defendant, Elton L. Williams, was convicted of first degree murder arising from the shooting death of police officer Timothy Simenson. At a separate sentencing hearing, the same jury found defendant eligible for the death penalty. The jury also found that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of that sentence. The trial judge accordingly sentenced defendant to death. Defendant's sentence has been stayed pending direct review by this court. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, ยง 4(b); 134 Ill. 2d Rs. 603, 609(a). For the reasons which follow, we affirm defendant's conviction and sentence.

BACKGROUND

We here provide the relevant facts leading to defendant's arrest and conviction. Other facts will be provided as they pertain to the issues discussed.

On September 28, 1994, shortly after midnight, Bill Chaney parked his car in the lot of the Arbor Club apartment complex and walked to the entrance of his apartment building at 1620 Arbor Club in Crest Hill, Illinois. He noticed a white car with its motor running, but saw no one in it. As Chaney approached the entrance of his building, Elton Williams, the defendant, ran towards him, pointed an altered .22-caliber rifle at him, and demanded his wallet. Chaney tossed his wallet, fled to his apartment, and dialed 911.

At 12:23 a.m., Jane Randolph, emergency dispatcher for the Crest Hill police department, answered Chaney's call. Chaney told Randolph he was robbed at gunpoint by a black man wearing a black jacket. He also mentioned the possible involvement of a white car.

At the time of Chaney's call, Sergeant Simenson and Officer Evanoff were parked in their respective squad cars near Chaney's apartment complex. Upon hearing the call, they immediately drove towards the Arbor Club complex, where they saw a black male driving a white car out of the parking lot. Simenson followed the white car; Evanoff drove to Chaney's residence. Simenson reported the license plate to Randolph and she advised him that the plates were registered to a 1989 Ford. Simenson reported that he was going to stop the car at Theodore and Burry Circle. Officer Ralph Smith also heard the call and went to assist Simenson.

When Officer Smith arrived at Theodore and Burry Circle, Simenson was standing outside of the white car with a black male. Simenson reported the male's name as Gregory Shaw and reported the vehicle identification number of the car. Simenson then shined his flashlight inside the car, removed the keys, and instructed Shaw to move to the rear of the car. Rather than comply, Shaw sat, inexplicably, on the trunk of the white car. Simenson told Shaw to get off the trunk and to stand next to Simenson's squad car, which was parked directly behind them. Shaw slid down from the trunk, but remained there for a few seconds before moving to the squad car.

Simenson unlocked the trunk and lifted the trunk deck, holding the keys in his right hand and a flashlight in his left. As the trunk deck rose, the barrel of a gun simultaneously emerged from within the trunk. As Simenson looked into the trunk, defendant shot Simenson twice in the face. Defendant then aimed the gun at Officer Smith, but the gun jammed. Defendant jumped out of the trunk and continued to aim the gun at Officer Smith. Smith and Evanoff shot defendant until he fell to the ground.

Defendant made a few attempts to get up, but Officer Evanoff ordered him to stay down. Evanoff asked defendant if he had any more weapons and defendant responded that he did not. Evanoff then holstered his weapon and handcuffed defendant.

Two ambulances arrived at the scene of the shooting. Paramedics detected a faint pulse on Simenson, but it was later determined that Simenson died as he fell to the ground. Paramedics treated defendant at the scene and transported him to the hospital; the police transported Shaw to jail. On October 5, 1994, defendant and Shaw were indicted for five counts of first degree murder and one count of armed robbery.

Following trial, a jury found defendant guilty of first degree (knowing) murder, first degree (intentional) murder, and felony murder. 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a) (West 1992). The trial court accepted all the verdicts and entered judgment on the intentional murder count, as well as the armed robbery count to which defendant had already pled guilty.

The jury also found defendant eligible for the death penalty, and following evidence in aggravation and mitigation, the jury further found no mitigation sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty. Pursuant to the jury's finding, the trial court imposed a sentence of death.

ANALYSIS

Defendant raises various issues pertaining to both the guilt and sentencing phases of the trial.

Guilt Phase

Pretrial

Prior to trial, defendant sought to suppress a statement he made to paramedic Scott Shear while in the ambulance. At the hearing on defendant's motion to suppress, Shear testified that, "out of curiosity," he asked defendant why he shot Officer Simenson. Defendant responded that he shot the officer because he did not want to go to jail. Defendant did not testify at the suppression hearing. The trial court found that defendant had not been given his Miranda rights at the time he made the statement. Nevertheless, the trial court found that the statement was made voluntarily.

Defendant contends that the trial court improperly found that his statement to paramedic Scott Shear was voluntary. Initially, defendant argues that we should conduct a de novo review of this argument. We note that, generally, a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence is subject to reversal only if manifestly erroneous. People v. Dilworth, 169 Ill. 2d 195, 201, 214 Ill. Dec. 456, 661 N.E.2d 310 (1996). De novo review by this court is appropriate when neither the facts nor the credibility of witnesses is questioned. People v. Mitchell, 165 Ill. 2d 211, 230, 209 Ill. Dec. 41, 650 N.E.2d 1014 (1995). Because issues of credibility and fact are questioned in the present case, we must review this issue based on the manifest weight of the evidence standard.

Whether a statement is made voluntarily is judged by the totality of the circumstances. People v. House, 141 Ill. 2d 323, 376, 152 Ill. Dec. 572, 566 N.E.2d 259 (1990). The test to determine whether a confession is voluntary is whether the accused's will was overborne at the time he confessed. People v. Kincaid, 87 Ill. 2d 107, 117, 57 Ill. Dec. 610, 429 N.E.2d 508 (1981). If so, the confession cannot be deemed the product of a rational intellect and a free will. Kincaid, 87 Ill. 2d at 117.

Defendant argues that he was so badly injured from the gunshot wound he sustained that his statement to the paramedic was not the product of a free and rational choice. In support of this argument, defendant cites People v. Strickland, 129 Ill. 2d 550, 136 Ill. Dec. 72, 544 N.E.2d 758 (1989). In Strickland, defendant sustained a gunshot wound to his finger. Although the police were aware of defendant's wound, they did not transport him to the hospital until after nine hours in custody. By the time defendant received treatment, he had made five incriminating statements. In upholding the trial court's suppression of defendant's statements, this court held that the defendant's statements were not voluntary because defendant could have concluded that further treatment was dependent on his cooperation with the police. Strickland, 129 Ill. 2d at 558. See also People v. O'Leary, 45 Ill. 2d 122, 257 N.E.2d 112 (1970) (holding that defendant's confession, coming so soon after being sprayed with tear gas, was involuntary and not a product of his free will).

Defendant also relies on Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 57 L. Ed. 2d 290, 98 S. Ct. 2408 (1978). In Mincey, the investigators interrogated the defendant in the hospital a few hours after being seriously wounded by the police. Defendant was in intensive care and intubated. He had been given various drugs and was unable to speak. Defendant responded to questions by writing on pieces of paper; however, some of his answers were not entirely coherent. Although defendant repeatedly requested that the interrogation stop and requested a lawyer, police detectives continued to interrogate him for almost four hours. The Supreme Court stated that based on the record, defendant's statements were not the product of his free and rational choice. The court concluded that, weakened by pain and shock, and barely conscious, defendant's will was simply overborne. Mincey, 437 U.S. at 401-02, 57 L. Ed. 2d at 306, 98 S. Ct. at 2418. See also Beecher v. Alabama, 389 U.S. 35, 19 L. Ed. 2d 35, 88 S. Ct. 189 (1967) (holding that defendant's confession was a product of gross coercion where he was under the influence of morphine and police threatened to kill him if he refused to confess).

The defendant, like the defendants in Mincey and Strickland, suffered the pain of gunshot wounds at the time he made the statement. However, those cases, as well as O'Leary and Beecher, are clearly distinguishable from the instant case. At the suppression hearing, paramedics Shear and Laroy Aldridge testified that when they arrived at the scene, defendant became uncooperative and verbally abusive. The paramedics, nevertheless, provided immediate medical attention, examining defendant's injuries, noting the amount of blood loss and level of consciousness. Although defendant complained of pain, he was stable and did not appear to be in shock. According to Shear and Aldridge, defendant's wound appeared to have stopped bleeding; defendant was not medicated, was coherent and able to provide personal information, such as his name, address and any preexisting medical problems. Shear testified that when he asked defendant why he shot Simenson, defendant seemed to ponder the question before answering that he did not want to go back to jail.

The paramedics' testimonies were corroborated by Officer Stoddard of the Crest Hill police department. Officer Stoddard testified that he guarded defendant in the ambulance; however, his gun was not drawn at the time. Although defendant complained of pain, he was coherent and able to answer questions. Dr. Kasbekar, defendant's treating physician, testified that upon defendant's arrival at the hospital, defendant was in severe pain and in shock. However, defendant was alert and personally gave Dr. Kasbekar consent to operate. Dr. Kahn, who also treated defendant in the emergency room, testified by stipulation that at the time of defendant's admission, defendant was in shock, but coherent.

We do not believe that the circumstances surrounding defendant's statement rose to the level of coercion found in the cases cited above. The tenor of defendant's statement is inconsistent with that of one whose will is overborne. Also, there is no evidence that defendant believed that he was compelled to answer Shear's question as a condition to receiving medical treatment. In any event, the "constitutional inquiry into the issue of voluntariness 'requires more than a mere color-matching of cases.' " Beecher, 389 U.S. at 38, 19 L. Ed. 2d at 39, 88 S. Ct. at 191, quoting Reck v. Pate, 367 U.S. 433, 442, 6 L. Ed. 2d 948, 954, 81 S. Ct. 1541, 1547 (1961). Viewing the totality of the circumstances in the case sub judice, we believe that the trial court properly found that defendant's statement was voluntary. Therefore, the trial court's denial of defendant's motion was proper.

Trial

Defendant argues that he was deprived of his right to confront witnesses against him when the trial court permitted the jury to hear the contents of the 911 telephone call from the victim of the robbery to the Crest Hill police dispatcher. Although defendant claims that his constitutional rights were violated, the substance of his claim is that the tape recording constituted inadmissible hearsay. The tape can be summarized as follows. In response to Chaney's phone call regarding the robbery, the 911 operator relays the information to Officer Evanoff. Officer Evanoff advises the operator that he is on his way to speak to Chaney. Officer Simenson then reports that a black male in a white car has left the apartment complex and he will stop the car at Theodore and Burry Circle. After stopping the car, Officer Simenson reports the license plate of the car, the vehicle identification number, and the name of the driver, Gregory Shaw. Officer Smith reports that he is on his way to assist Officer Simenson. Officer Evanoff reports Chaney's description of the robber and states that he is en route to Theodore and Burry Circle with Chaney. After approximately four minutes of silence, Officer Evanoff reports that an officer is down and requests an ambulance. The operator dispatches the Joliet police department for assistance. Officer Smith requests a second ambulance.

As stated earlier, defendant argues that introduction of the 911 tape constituted inadmissible hearsay. Hearsay is an out-of-court statement offered to establish the truth of the matter asserted; hearsay is generally not admissible in evidence. People v. Rogers, 81 Ill. 2d 571, 577, 44 Ill. Dec. 254, 411 N.E.2d 223 (1980). However, testimony about an out-of-court statement which is used for a purpose other than to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement is not "hearsay." People v. Simms, 143 Ill. 2d 154, 173, 157 Ill. Dec. 483, 572 N.E.2d 947 (1991). For example, a hearsay statement is allowed where it is offered for the limited purpose of showing the course of a police investigation where such testimony is necessary to fully explain the State's case to the trier of fact ( Simms, 143 Ill. 2d at 174) or to establish the intent or state of mind of the declarant ( People v. Newbury, 53 Ill. 2d 228, 290 N.E.2d 592 (1972)). The admissibility of evidence is within the sound discretion of the trial court, and its ruling will not be reversed unless there has been an abuse of that discretion. People v. Ward, 101 Ill. 2d 443, 79 Ill. Dec. 142, 463 N.E.2d 696 (1984).

Here, the trial court found that the tape was relevant to establish that Simenson was a police officer acting in the course of his official duties. The court also found that the tape assisted the jury in understanding the parties' conduct and refuted defendant's claim of self-defense. Therefore, we hold that the tape did not constitute inadmissible hearsay. Defendant claims, however, that to establish that Simenson was acting in the course of his duties, the jury would have to accept the truth of the matter asserted, i.e., statements that decedent was pulling the car over and statements identifying the decedent as a police officer. We reject defendant's reasoning. The determination of whether a statement constitutes inadmissible hearsay does not focus upon the substance of the statement, but rather the purpose for which the statement is being used.

Furthermore, the record reflects that the trial court specifically instructed the jury that it was to consider the 911 tape for the limited purpose of understanding the manner in which the police conducted their investigation; to show the continuity of the police conduct, the effect of the conversations on the listeners' states of mind and why the listeners acted as they did; to show the declarants' states of mind and why the declarants acted as they did; and to show the actual time in which all the events took place. We must presume, ...


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