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People v. Erickson

June 18, 1998


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Nickels

Agenda 8

September 1997.

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant was found guilty of the murder, rape, unlawful restraint and concealment of a homicidal death in connection with the stabbing death of 15-year- old Elizabeth Launer. The State sought imposition of the death penalty. Defendant waived his right to a jury for sentencing. After a capital sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced defendant to death. This court affirmed defendant's convictions and sentence. People v. Erickson, 117 Ill. 2d 271 (1987), cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1017, 100 L. Ed. 2d 216, 108 S. Ct. 1754 (1988). On November 30, 1990, defendant filed a petition for relief under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, par. 122-1 et seq.). The trial court dismissed the petition, and this court affirmed the dismissal. People v. Erickson, 161 Ill. 2d 82 (1994). Subsequently, on December 15, 1995, defendant filed a second post-conviction petition, which was likewise dismissed by the trial court. Defendant now appeals the trial court's dismissal of his second post-conviction petition.


The factual background of defendant's trial is set forth in the opinion in defendant's direct appeal (People v. Erickson, 117 Ill. 2d 271 (1987)) and only a brief summary is necessary here. On the evening of July 30, 1982, the victim, Elizabeth Launer, and four other teenagers, Lisa Soderberg, Renee East, Thomas Fairweather and Michael Blanchard, assembled for a party. The members of this group ranged in age from 13 to 16 years old. Defendant, who was then 25 years old, agreed to purchase alcohol and to rent a room for the group at the Holiday Inn in Rolling Meadows. Fairweather and Blanchard testified for the State that defendant solicited their help with a plan to rape Elizabeth Launer. The plan called for the victim to be killed so that the rape would not be reported. After Lisa Soderberg and Renee East left the party, defendant, Fairweather, Blanchard and the victim drove to an apartment complex in Rolling Meadows in defendant's car. Defendant had brought along neckties, which were used to bind the victim's hands and to gag her.

Defendant used a knife to cut off the victim's clothes, at which point Blanchard walked away from the car, indicating that he wanted no part of what was occurring. According to Fairweather, defendant placed the victim on the front seat of the car and positioned himself between her legs. Fairweather heard the sound of a zipper being unzipped, and observed defendant lower himself onto the victim. Later, defendant and Fairweather walked the victim to a nearby retention pond. Fairweather held the victim's head while defendant stabbed her to death. Fairweather and defendant threw the victim's body and her clothing into the retention pond.

Defendant, Fairweather and Blanchard then returned to defendant's car and left the scene. According to Blanchard, during the ride from the scene defendant stated that he stabbed the victim in the heart, and he commented on how the blood had spurted when he stabbed her. At the time of trial, Fairweather had been charged as a juvenile with various offenses including murder. Pursuant to an agreement with the State, he would plead guilty to one of the charges and would receive a lenient sentence in exchange for his truthful testimony against defendant. Blanchard had been charged as a juvenile with concealment of a homicidal death, but the State had agreed to dismiss the charge in exchange for Blanchard's truthful testimony. Other witnesses for the State included Mickey Jaksch and Billy Johnson, both of whom related conversations with defendant in which defendant indicated that he had personally stabbed the victim.

Defendant testified on his own behalf. According to defendant, Thomas Fairweather had expressed an interest in having sex with the victim and discussed raping her. Defendant indicated that he held the victim's arms while Fairweather tied her hands together at the Rolling Meadows apartment complex. Defendant testified that he left the car at that point, and he did not know whether Fairweather had raped the victim. According to defendant's testimony, he and Fairweather walked the victim to the retention pond, at which point Fairweather stabbed her. Defendant denied having sexual contact with the victim.

Following the presentation of this evidence, the jury found defendant guilty of murder, rape, unlawful restraint, and concealment of a homicidal death. The State sought the death penalty, and defendant elected to be sentenced by the court. At the first stage of the death penalty hearing, the court found that defendant was eligible for the death penalty because the victim was killed during the course of the felony of rape, and the victim was actually killed by defendant and not another party to the crime. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 9-1(b)(6).

At the second stage of sentencing, the State presented the testimony of Billy Johnson, who described an incident that occurred about two weeks before the murder of Elizabeth Launer. According to Johnson, defendant suggested that they drive to O'Hare Airport to pick up a prostitute. Johnson testified that defendant said they would kill the prostitute after having sex. Rosalie Blackstock testified that in 1979 she encountered defendant, whom she had met once before, at a restaurant in Lombard. According to Blackstock, defendant forced her to have sex with him after she accepted his offer of a ride. Marge Rader Bass testified that in 1979, defendant invited her to a party in a motel room. When she and defendant arrived at the motel room it was empty. After 15 or 20 minutes, defendant pinned Bass to the bed and threatened to rape her or to tell her parents that she had seduced him. When Bass threatened to scream, defendant released her and took her home. About a week later the tires on Bass' car were slashed. About a week after that, Bass again encountered defendant. Defendant displayed a knife. While displaying a knife, defendant "apologized" for slashing Bass' tires and stated that he should have slashed Bass instead.

Harvey Greenway, a detective with the Rolling Meadows police department, related a conversation with Joanne Combs. Combs indicated that she met defendant in March of 1980 when she was 14 years old and soon became involved in a sexual relationship with defendant which resulted in her becoming pregnant. Detective Greenway testified that Combs told him defendant had slapped her on several occasions and threatened to kill her if she told anyone the baby was his. Therese Moran testified that in 1981, at the age of 15, she conceived a child with defendant. Finally, one of defendant's fellow inmates in a Cook County jail hospital ward testified that defendant boasted about the murder of Elizabeth Launer.

The sentencing proceedings took an unusual turn when defendant commenced with the presentation of mitigating evidence. Defendant sought to call John Weliczko as an expert witness. Initially, Weliczko testified that he held a Masters degree in psychology from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Chicago. On cross-examination, however, Weliczko admitted that his degree from Harvard was in theological studies rather than psychology. Weliczko's claimed doctoral degree was not a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, but a ministry degree from an affiliated institution, the Chicago Theological Seminary. The trial court found that Weliczko did not qualify as an expert in the field of psychology. However, the trial court allowed Weliczko to testify as a lay witness with respect to defendant's mental or emotional condition. Based on meetings with defendant and with his parents, Weliczko offered the opinion that defendant suffered from a narcissistic personality disorder. According to Weliczko, defendant needed to be the center of attention. Weliczko portrayed defendant to be deceitful and manipulative, but added that he was also susceptible to manipulation by others because of his need for acceptance. A written "psychological evaluation" prepared by Weliczko was admitted into evidence.

At the Conclusion of the second stage of the sentencing hearing, the trial court determined that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of the death penalty. The court sentenced defendant to death.


I. The Post-Conviction Hearing Act

The Post-Conviction Hearing Act permits a defendant to mount a collateral attack on his conviction and sentence based on violations of his constitutional rights. People v. Coleman, 168 Ill. 2d 509, 522 (1995), People v. Mahaffey, 165 Ill. 2d 445, 452 (1995). Post-conviction review is limited to matters which have not been, and could not have been, previously adjudicated. Coleman, 168 Ill. 2d at 522; People v. Brisbon, 164 Ill. 2d 236, 245 (1995). Determinations of the reviewing court on direct appeal are res judicata as to issues actually decided, and issues that could have been raised on direct appeal but were not are waived. Coleman, 168 Ill. 2d at 522; Mahaffey, 165 Ill. 2d at 452. Moreover, a defendant is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on a post- conviction claim only if he ...

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