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People v. Daniels

October 29, 1998


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Wolfson



This is one of the first, if not the first, criminal cases in Illinois where a trial Judge allowed the State to present DNA evidence against the accused. One of the defendant's contentions is that his attorney was ill-equipped to challenge the evidence. We examine that contention, as well as the State's claim that the DNA evidence did defendant no harm.

In this consolidated appeal Michael Daniels (Daniels) seeks review of his 1989 convictions for murder and aggravated criminal sexual assault, his sentence of natural life imprisonment, and the 1996 order denying his petition for post-conviction relief. We affirm.


On the morning of August 10, 1987, Birgitte Andersen (Andersen) was found murdered in her apartment at 1333 W. Birchwood in Chicago. Daniels, who recently had been dating Andersen, was arrested later that same day. Less than 12 hours later he gave a signed, written statement to an assistant State's Attorney implicating himself in the murder.

The August 1987 grand jury indicted Daniels on three counts of first degree murder and two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault.

In May 1988 and continuing on into August 1988, evidence was heard on Daniels' motion to suppress his statement. After hearing all the evidence, the trial court denied the motion.

In October 1989, a Frye hearing was held to determine the admissibility of DNA tests performed by the FBI. See Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923)(before novel scientific evidence may be admitted in court the principles on which the evidence is based must be shown to be generally accepted in the relevant scientific community). The court decided to admit the evidence, but, on the defendant's motion, excluded statistical probabilities evidence. The trial Judge said the probabilities evidence tended to be overpersuasive.

Later that same month, on October 23, 1989, Daniels' jury trial commenced. As his defense, Daniels attempted to show that his cousin, Mark Sublett, had committed the murder. Daniels contended they each had equal motive for killing Andersen -- jealousy.

The jury learned that Sublett, though married, had been having a relationship with Andersen since June 1987. Sublett said he stayed at Andersen's apartment 2-3 times per week. Sublett also had another girlfriend, Michelle Ordman.

On the evening of August 9, 1987, Sublett was with Ordman. They met Daniels at a liquor store and then they all went to the beach to drink. Around midnight they left the beach. Sublett, Ordman, and Daniels rode in Sublett's car to a hotel, where Sublett and Ordman registered for the night. Sublett and Ordman then agreed to drive Daniels home. On the way, however, Daniels asked to be dropped off at an apartment building on Birchwood. Sublett knew Andersen lived in the same building and, he said, he became curious. He accompanied Daniels into the apartment. When Daniels went up to Andersen's apartment, Sublett, to Daniels' surprise, opened the door with his own set of keys. It was then that Sublett and Daniels discovered that Andersen had been dating them both at the same time. Sublett said Andersen was surprised to learn that he and Daniels were cousins.

The evidence also showed, however, that Sublett left Andersen's apartment and went back to the hotel with Ordman. Ordman corroborated Sublett's testimony and said Sublett never left the hotel room until much later that morning when they left together.

Both Ordman and Sublett testified that, at about noon on August 10, 1987, they arrived at Andersen's apartment. Sublett unlocked the door with the keys he had. Sublett entered the apartment, with Ordman behind him. He said he saw Andersen's leg hanging off the bed, so he yelled at Ordman to stay out.

Sublett ran upstairs to another apartment and knocked, but no one answered. Sublett returned to Andersen's apartment, grabbed a suitcase of clothes he had been keeping there, then drove with Ordman to Daniels' Evanston home. At the Daniels residence Sublett accused Daniels of killing Andersen. He attacked Daniels with a fan. Sublett cut himself on the fan. There was blood on his clothes.

Daniels' mother called the police. When the Evanston police arrived at Daniels' residence Sublett was sitting outside the apartment with a bandage on his hand due to the injury he received from the fan. Sublett told the police Daniels killed Andersen. Sublett then accompanied the police to Andersen's apartment and gave them keys to enter the apartment. The police found Andersen's partially nude body lying on the bed.

The police testified that, at first, Sublett was treated as a suspect. He was placed under arrest, advised of his rights, and turned over to the Chicago police. The Chicago police took Sublett to the station, where he was questioned about the murder. Based on Sublett's accusations, Officer Rucci was sent to Evanston between 12:30 and 1:00 that afternoon to pick up Daniels. Daniels was seated in an Evanston police car. He was not handcuffed. Officer Rucci testified Daniels was not placed under arrest at this time. Daniels agreed to accompany Rucci to the station for questioning. Daniels was taken to Area 6 and placed in a locked interview room.

Later, the police picked up Ordman and brought her to the station. Sublett, Ordman, and Daniels were interrogated at Area 6 of the Chicago police department.

Detective Orr testified he first spoke with Daniels at about 5 p.m. Daniels was seated in an interview room with one arm handcuffed to a ring on the wall. Detective Orr advised Daniels of his rights and questioned him about the Andersen murder. Orr told Daniels his cousin (Sublett) was accusing him of murdering Andersen. Daniels admitted being at the apartment, but denied killing Andersen.

After two more Discussions with Daniels in which Daniels denied killing Andersen, Detective Orr spoke with Daniels at about 8:15 p.m. and asked if he would agree to speak with Sublett. Daniels agreed. Sublett was brought into the room. He pleaded with Daniels to tell the police what happened. At this point, Daniels admitted he hit Andersen.

Sublett immediately was taken from the room and Detective Orr continued questioning Daniels. Now Daniels told Detective Orr he met Andersen on the beach three days ago and "fell in love" with her. Daniels said he became enraged when he learned Andersen was having a sexual relationship with Sublett. Daniels told Orr he first slapped Andersen in the face, then punched her twice. When he punched her the first time, she hit her head on the edge of a bedside table. That's when he punched her again.

Daniels said while he was punching Andersen he thought he heard someone coming, so he ran out of the apartment. When the unidentified person passed by, Daniels said, he returned to the apartment. Daniels said Andersen was now sitting up with her feet over the edge of the bed. She was bleeding from the back of the head. Blood was coming from her mouth, making it difficult for her to speak. Andersen was shaking. Daniels said he took a rag and stuffed it in Andersen's mouth. When he did this, Andersen grabbed Daniels' hand and scraped one of the fingers of his left hand. After putting the rag in Andersen's mouth, Daniels said, he left the apartment and went home.

Detective Orr testified he observed a long scrape mark on the middle finger of Daniels' left hand, consistent with the type of injury Daniels said he received from Andersen.

Detective Orr testified he broke off questioning after receiving the above information. Later, however, Detective Orr confronted Daniels with evidence that Andersen was partially nude and appeared to have been sexually assaulted. Daniels then admitted that, after putting the rag in Andersen's mouth, he had removed Andersen's underpants and masturbated on her, climaxing on her vagina.

Detective Orr said an assistant State's Attorney was called to the station. Sublett, Ordman, and Daniels all provided the assistant State's Attorney with signed, written statements. Sublett and Ordman testified at trial consistent with their written statements. Daniels' statement, which contained the information he told Detective Orr implicating himself in the murder, was admitted as evidence at trial.

For his defense, Daniels was able to establish at trial that Sublett had a violent temper. On cross-examination, Daniels was able to show that at the time of trial Sublett was serving a sentence on a charge of aggravated battery. Also, Ordman testified Sublett had severely beaten her on more than one occasion.

Nevertheless, the physical evidence fit the statement Daniels gave police. Photographs of the crime scene and the autopsy report indicated that Andersen was found on the bed of her apartment with a bloody sheet and pillow over her face. The lower half of her body was nude. Her underpants were lying beside the bed. When the sheet and pillow were removed, it was discovered that a shirt was stuffed in Andersen's mouth.

The medical examiner testified the external examination of Andersen's body revealed six, irregular, elongated lacerations to the back of Andersen's head, as well as seven abrasions, three bruises, and one laceration to Andersen's face. There were no skull fractures. There was an elongated imprint-type mark on the left side of Andersen's neck and the tip of two of Andersen's fingers on the left hand showed bruising or small hemorrhaging.

The medical examiner also found blood smears in and around Andersen's rectum and vaginal areas, as well as bruising around the vaginal orifice. A white mucoid substance was found just inside the vaginal opening. He said vaginal swabs, fingernail clippings, and blood samples were taken from the deceased and turned over to the Chicago crime lab. The medical examiner listed suffocation and blunt force trauma as the causes of death.A fingerprint identification expert from the Chicago police department testified latent prints lifted from a drinking glass found next to the bed of the deceased matched Daniels' known prints.

A serologist working in the crime lab of the Chicago police department testified about blood tests performed on Daniels, Andersen, and Sublett. The serologist said Daniels' and Andersen's blood type was Type A. Sublett's blood type was Type AB. All three were secretors, meaning their blood type could be determined from other bodily fluids, such as saliva or semen.

Tests performed on the mucoid substance found in Andersen's vaginal swab showed only Type A blood type was present. This test included Daniels and excluded Sublett as a contributor. Tests done on the semen stain found on Andersen's underpants, however, showed Type AB blood type was present. This meant Sublett, but not Daniels, could have been a contributor.

Tests performed on the blood found on the clothes Sublett was wearing at the time of his arrest showed it to be Type AB, consistent with it being Sublett's own blood.

The court also admitted into evidence the results of DNA tests performed at the FBI testing facility. The FBI expert testified the sample from the vaginal swab was too degraded and contained insufficient DNA to produce any viable DNA information. Thus, the results of DNA tests done on the vaginal swab were inconclusive, ...

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