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People v. Connery

May 01, 1998


Judicial Circuit, County Illinois No. 95-CF-438 Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 21st Kankakee Honorable David Youck Judge Presiding

Holdridge, J. McCUSKEY, P.j., concurs. Lytton, J., specially concurs.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Holdridge

Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1)(West 1992)) and concealment of a homicidal death (720 ILCS 5/9-3.1(a)(West 1992)). He was sentenced to natural life imprisonment on the first degree murder conviction and five years imprisonment on the concealment of a homicidal death conviction. On appeal, defendant maintains that: (1) the trial court committed reversible error in admitting evidence of his statements made during a hearing in which a guilty plea to the charges at issue was entered of record; (2) he was afforded ineffective assistance of counsel; (3) his natural life sentence was excessive. We affirm.


The defendant and James Rogers were charged in the stabbing death of Melissa Osman. While awaiting trial, the defendant confessed to police in a video-taped statement that both he and Rogers stabbed Osman after each had sex with her.

In March 1996, the defendant entered into a plea agreement with the People, agreeing to exchange his truthful testimony against Rogers for a 55 year sentence on the murder charge and the dismissal of all other charges against him. At a hearing for the purpose of entering the agreed plea, the trial court accepted the agreement and entered judgment on the plea. After entering judgment, the trial court permitted the People to examine the defendant, under oath, to elicit testimony that his video-taped confession was both truthful and voluntary. The defendant's counsel did not object to this questioning.

At the time the trial court entered judgment, it was agreed that sentencing would be deferred until after the Rogers trial. However, the defendant was never called to testify at the Rogers trial.

Subsequently, the defendant filed a motion to vacate his guilty plea, which the trial court denied. He then requested that a sentence of 55 years be imposed in accordance with the plea agreement. The People maintained, however, that they were not bound to the plea agreement since defendant had not testified at the Rogers trial. The court then held that in fundamental fairness the defendant should be permitted to withdraw his guilty plea.

At defendant's jury trial, the People presented testimony establishing that in the early morning hours of July 12, 1995, the defendant, Rogers, and Osman left a tavern together. Osman and the defendant were also seen near a car in the tavern's parking lot, and Rogers was observed sitting in the passenger seat of the car. On July 14, 1995, Osman was reported missing. The next day, her partially-clad body was found in a rural area not far from her home, lying under some plastic garbage bags filled with leaves.

Pathologist, Dr. Joseph Sapala, testified that Osman died from approximately 26 stab wounds to her body, which he opined were inflicted by two different knives, one a double-edged and the other a single-edged knife.

Physical evidence linking the defendant to the murder was also introduced during the People's case, including blood stained clothing and two knives found in the defendant's car, two latent fingerprints of the defendant's found on one of the plastic garbage bags, and blood taken from the defendant's sandals that matched Osman's DNA.

The defendant's testimony at trial was that he did not know Osman, but met her when he and Rogers went to the tavern were they were seen together by the People's witnesses. He testified that Osman told him that she had missed her ride and he offered her a ride home. She accepted the offer, and the three (Osman, Rogers and the defendant) left the tavern in the defendant's car. According to the defendant, Rogers directed him to a rural area where he parked the car. The defendant stated that, at Rogers' request, he got out of the car to give Osman and Rogers some privacy. After about ten minutes, he returned to the car where he saw Osman wearing only her shirt and bra, while Rogers was allegedly pulling up his pants.

According to the defendant, Osman then beckoned him to have sex with her. When they finished, he got out of the car and walked a short ways. He next saw Rogers and Osman standing along the front fender of the car. Rogers was holding a knife and the defendant watched as Rogers stabbed Osman in the back. Rogers then handed the knife to the defendant and told him to stab Osman. Defendant stated that he was unable to do so, and he returned the knife to Rogers, who continued stabbing Osman. The defendant denied stabbing Osman.

The defendant then testified that he and Rogers placed garbage bags on top of Osman's body and left the area. He testified that the two drove around for awhile until they found a pond in which to clean up, then went to a store and then to a restaurant. Defendant stated that he did not contact the ...

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