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People v. Woods

September 24, 1998


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McMORROW

Agenda 9-May 1998.

Defendant, James Woods, sustained injuries while in police custody. Defendant contends that he was physically and psychologically coerced into confessing to the crimes with which he was charged. In denying defendant's motion to suppress his confession, the trial court found that the State had presented clear and convincing evidence, in accordance with this court's decision in People v. Wilson, 116 Ill. 2d 29 (1987), that the injuries sustained by defendant were not inflicted by police as a means of producing the confession. Defendant was subsequently convicted and sentenced to two concurrent terms of natural life in prison. With one Justice Dissenting, the appellate court (No. 2-94-1393 (unpublished opinion under Supreme Court Rule 23)) affirmed the trial court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress.

The sole issue presented in this appeal is whether, because defendant was admittedly injured while in police custody, the State established by clear and convincing evidence that the injuries were not inflicted as a means of procuring defendant's confession. We now reverse and remand this cause for a new trial.


Defendant and a co-defendant, Aldwin McNeal, were charged in a single indictment with armed robbery and double murder committed at Maude's Pizza restaurant in Waukegan, Illinois, on April 7, 1994. Defendant, who was charged with two counts of first degree murder in violation of section 9-1(a)(3) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3) (West 1994)) and two counts of armed robbery in violation of section 18-2(a) of the Code (720 ILCS 5/18-2(a) (West 1994)), was prosecuted separately from McNeal. At trial, the State introduced defendant's confession concerning his involvement in the armed robbery and murders. The jury found defendant guilty and the court sentenced him to natural life in prison for the murder convictions. No sentence or order of final judgment was entered on the armed robbery convictions.

Prior to trial, defendant filed a motion to suppress his confession, alleging that his inculpatory statement was a direct result of verbal threats and physical coercion by Waukegan police officers. The trial court conducted a hearing on defendant's motion, adducing testimony from numerous witnesses concerning the circumstances surrounding defendant's arrest and confession on April 23, 1994.

According to the testimony, on April 21, 1994, the Zion police department obtained a warrant for the arrest of McNeal in connection with an unrelated incident which occurred prior to the Maude's Pizza robbery and homicides. The testimony indicated that officers from the Zion and Waukegan police departments frequently shared information. Upon being informed by the Zion officers that the arrest of McNeal was imminent, the Waukegan officers, who considered McNeal a suspect in the Maude's Pizza murders, accompanied the Zion officers in serving the arrest warrant. On April 22, 1994, between 10 and 15 officers from the Zion and Waukegan police departments went to McNeal's Zion residence to serve the Zion arrest warrant.

When the officers arrived at McNeal's home, they knocked on the door, and, after several minutes, defendant answered the door and stated that McNeal was not present. Defendant allowed the officers into McNeal's residence, whereupon they conducted an unsuccessful search for McNeal. The officers testified that during the time that the search for McNeal was conducted, defendant was seated on one of the couches in the living room, drinking from a bottle of beer, and talking with two women and several children who were also present in the home. The officers testified that they had no knowledge of defendant prior to the time he opened McNeal's door, that he was not a suspect in any crime, and that defendant was free to walk around the living room during the officers' search of McNeal's residence. Waukegan Detective Richard Davis testified that while defendant was in the living room, Davis asked defendant to raise the sole of his sneaker shoe to see if the pattern was similar to a sneaker pattern left at the Maude's Pizza crime scene. Detective Davis testified that he believed the sole patterns of defendant's shoes were similar to the patterns left at the crime scene, and informed his superior officers of this belief. However, Davis stated that neither he nor anyone else suggested that defendant be taken into custody or arrested based upon the similarity of the sole patterns.

Waukegan Detectives Irvin Grimes and Artis Yancey testified that because they believed that defendant had information concerning the whereabouts of McNeal, they asked defendant if he would accompany them to the Waukegan police station. According to Detectives Grimes and Yancey, defendant agreed to go to the station and followed the officers out of McNeal's residence to Yancey's car. Defendant seated himself in the backseat while both Grimes and Yancey were seated in the front. Prior to entering the vehicle, defendant was neither searched nor handcuffed, and, according to the officers, defendant was not under arrest.

Detectives Grimes and Yancey testified that after they arrived at the Waukegan police station sometime after 8 p.m. on April 22, 1994, defendant followed them into an interview room and was presented with a form advising him of his Miranda rights. The form was read to defendant and defendant indicated orally and in writing that he understood his rights and that he voluntarily waived those rights. The detectives stated that Waukegan police department procedure requires that whenever anyone is questioned for any reason, that person must be advised of his or her rights and provided with the waiver of rights form. Grimes and Yancey testified that when defendant arrived at the Waukegan police station, defendant was neither under arrest nor a suspect, and was not photographed or fingerprinted at that time.

Detectives Grimes and Yancey proceeded to question defendant concerning the whereabouts of McNeal. However, Grimes admitted during cross-examination that the officers were also following up on the lead concerning defendant's shoes. According to Grimes and Yancey, during their initial questioning of defendant, which lasted approximately an hour, defendant maintained that he had no knowledge concerning McNeal or any crimes. Sometime after 9:30 p.m. Grimes and Yancey left defendant in the unlocked interview room to inquire of other detectives if there was any news concerning McNeal. Detective Yancey testified that during this break, Grimes advised him that defendant fit the description of a possible second offender at the Maude's Pizza murders. Upon their return to the interview room, the detectives focused their questions upon the Maude's Pizza incident, and defendant continued to deny that he knew anything about McNeal or the murders. According to the detectives, during this time defendant was not under arrest, defendant never asked to leave, and defendant did not request a lawyer.

Shortly before 12 a.m., Detective Donald Meadie came to the interview room and Detective Yancey went outside to confer with him. According to Yancey, Meadie informed him that Aldwin McNeal's wife, Regina McNeal, had provided a statement implicating defendant in the Maude's Pizza robbery and homicide. Yancey asked Meadie to come into the interview room and inform defendant of Mrs. McNeal's statement. For the next hour defendant, confronted by Meadie, Grimes and Yancey, continued to deny any knowledge of the Maude's Pizza incident. Meadie then left the interview room to complete paperwork on Mrs. McNeal, while Detectives Grimes and Yancey continued to question defendant. According to Detective Yancey, defendant was first considered a suspect in the Maude's Pizza robbery and homicides only after Mrs. McNeal gave her statement implicating defendant. According to Grimes and Yancey, they terminated their questioning of defendant shortly before 2 a.m. on April 23, informed defendant that he was under arrest, and placed defendant in an individual cell located across from the interview room.

Grimes testified that he left the area after defendant was placed in the cell. Detective Yancey testified that he was alone with defendant, and, as he closed the door to defendant's cell, defendant was sitting on the bed. According to Yancey, defendant "looked very pitiful," causing Yancey to reopen the cell door and sit on the bed next to defendant. Yancey testified that he told defendant that McNeal "is going to drag you down on this." Defendant replied that defendant's life would be in danger if he spoke to the police because McNeal would arrange to have defendant killed in jail. Yancey testified that he told defendant that defendant "needed to tell a story" and that the police would protect him. In response, defendant began relating what had happened on the night of the Maude's Pizza homicides. At that point, Yancey left defendant's cell to inform his commanding officer that defendant was ready to confess to the Maude's Pizza robbery and murders.

Grimes and Yancey testified that they then removed defendant from the cell and returned him to the interview room. According to the detectives, at approximately 2 a.m. on April 23, defendant provided an oral statement implicating himself in the Maude's Pizza incident. The detectives then supplied defendant with a blank "voluntary statement" form, asked defendant to write out a handwritten statement in his own words, and left defendant alone to complete this task. Detective Yancey testified that during the time that defendant was writing out his statement, Yancey was preparing a typewritten statement based upon the oral account defendant had provided. The typewritten statement was then presented to defendant, who was asked to ...

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