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People v. Edwards

December 31, 1998


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 96--CF--42 Honorable Christopher C. Starck, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas


On January 17, 1996, defendant, James Edwards, was indicted on three counts of first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9--1 (West 1994)). Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to a term of mandatory natural life imprisonment. This timely appeal followed.

On December 9, 1994, 71-year-old Fred Reckling was found beaten to death inside Grand Appliance, a store he owned in Waukegan, Illinois. No arrests were made in connection with the murder. Thirteen months later, on January 4, 1996, defendant was taken into custody for questioning related to an armed robbery of the Roberts Roost Motel in Waukegan. Defendant confessed to the armed robbery and then indicated to the officers that he had been involved in other criminal incidents. In a signed statement, defendant said that he got out of prison in 1991 after serving 17 years for murder and admitted to numerous other crimes, including an armed robbery of the Best Inn Hotel in Waukegan, an armed robbery of Hair Crafters beauty salon, and a burglary of a store at South and Genesee in Waukegan. Defendant also confessed to the murder of a man in New York in 1973 and the murder of a woman in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in 1974. Defendant also admitted to an armed robbery of a man in North Chicago approximately two years earlier. Defendant then said that more incidents had happened since he had been released from jail, possibly including more murders, but said that he needed time to think because he sometimes was so high he had trouble remembering the details.

Later in the interrogation, defendant admitted his involvement in the 1995 robbery of First American Bank in Waukegan. Defendant signed a statement confessing to that robbery. Defendant eventually admitted that he had committed the murder of Fred Reckling at the Grand Appliance store. He subsequently signed a typewritten statement confessing to the murder and was videotaped while reading the statement. Defendant now raises numerous issues on appeal relating to his interrogation and trial. Additional relevant facts will be discussed in the context of the issues raised on appeal.

Defendant's first issue on appeal is that the State's peremptory challenges against two African-American venire members, Robert L. Hollins, Jr., and Samuel Holmes, violated the equal protection clause as interpreted by Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S. Ct. 1712, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69 (1986). Defendant maintains that the standard applied by the trial court to determine whether defendant established a prima facie case of discrimination imposed a burden on him that had been overruled in Batson. Defendant contends that this case should be remanded to the trial court for a proper Batson hearing.

The basis for defendant's argument that the trial court applied an improper standard is a comment by the trial court that defendant had not shown a pattern of discrimination by the State. Defendant claims that this case in similar to People v. Wiley, 156 Ill. 2d 464 (1993), where the Illinois Supreme Court remanded the case for further Batson proceedings based in part upon the trial court's finding that the State had not excused African-Americans in any systematic manner. The supreme court stated that the trial court's remarks were reminiscent of the outdated standard applied in Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202, 13 L. Ed. 2d 759, 85 S. Ct. 824 (1965), where a defendant had to prove that a prosecutor engaged in the exclusion of African-Americans in case after case, rather than in his case alone. Wiley, 156 Ill. 2d at 474. The court stated that while it could not conclude that the trial court had actually applied the outdated Swain test, it found the trial court's remarks to be improper and misguided. Because the trial record was insufficient to conduct a de novo review, the trial court's remarks, along with two additional factors, required a remand to the trial court for further Batson proceedings. Wiley, 156 Ill. 2d at 474-75.

We do not find the trial court's comments in this case to be similar to the comments of the trial court in Wiley. In responding to defendant's objections to the State's peremptory challenges to venire member Robert L. Hollins, Jr., the trial court told defense counsel that he "[had] to get a prima facie showing to get past the issue. You have to start with a prima facie showing of the discriminatory issue by the State." Defense counsel again noted that Hollins's answers had been without hesitation, and the trial court again said that there had been no prima facie showing of discrimination.

Later, when defendant objected to the peremptory challenge to venire member Samuel Holmes, the following colloquy ensued:

"THE COURT: Well, don't you have to show a pattern first before we get to -- it is a two-step process, isn't it? First you have to show a pattern of discrimination by the State, or they [sic] by you before we need show any reasons.

MR. BRODSKY: I am not required to show any kind of pattern of discrimination.

THE COURT: Since when?

MR. BRODSKY: I don't believe I am required to show any pattern.

THE COURT: First you have to show a prima facie showing. Has to be some kind of prima facie showing before we require them [sic] to state a reason." Defense counsel then noted that Holmes was the last African-American person remaining in the venire and urged the court to ask the prosecutors to offer a race-neutral reason for their exercise of a peremptory challenge to exclude him from service. The Judge denied the defense objection, ruling:

"I don't find a pattern. I don't find a prima facie showing to lead me to make an inquiry as to race neutral reason. Therefore, I am not going to force them to make any kind of Discussion at this time."

A Batson inquiry involves a two-step process. A defendant must first set forth a prima facie case of discrimination, and only when a defendant has made out a prima facie case does the trial court call upon the State to set forth its reasons for the peremptory challenge. Wiley, 156 Ill. 2d at 475. Here, the trial court clearly stated six times that defendant had to prove a prima facie case of discrimination and that the defendant had not done so. Based upon our review of the record, we do not find that the trial court imposed an improper burden on defendant when it referred to a pattern. In fact, we note that one of the relevant factors in determining whether a defendant has made out a prima facie case is "whether the State engaged in a 'pattern' of challenges against African-Americans." Wiley, 156 Ill. 2d at 473. Given the trial court's repeated statement that defendant had to make a prima facie case, and reviewing the trial court's reference to a "pattern" in context, we find that the trial court was addressing one of the factors relevant to a prima facie determination when it referred to a "pattern" of discrimination and was not placing an improper burden on defendant.

Defendant also claims that this case should be remanded for further Batson proceedings because the trial court erred in finding that he had not established a prima facie case of discrimination. Defendant claims that a prima facie case of discrimination existed because defendant is an African-American and two African-Americans were excused by the State. Defendant claims that the two challenged venire members showed no prejudice and that the State never explained the reasons for the challenges.

"It is settled that a Batson prima facie case cannot be established merely by the numbers of black venirepersons stricken by the State." People v. Peeples, 155 Ill. 2d 422, 469 (1993). To make a prima facie showing of discrimination under Batson, a defendant must demonstrate that relevant circumstances raise an inference that the State used peremptory challenges to remove venire members based upon their race. People v. Williams, 173 Ill. 2d 48, 71 (1996). Among the relevant circumstances are whether there was a pattern of strikes against African-American venire members, whether there was a disproportionate use of strikes against such members, the level of African-American representation in the jury venire as compared to the jury, the questions and statements of the State during voir dire, and the race of the defendant, the victim and the witnesses. People v. Garrett, 139 Ill. 2d 189, 203 (1990). A trial court's determination of whether a defendant has made a prima facie case will not be reversed unless it is against the manifest weight of the evidence. Williams, 173 Ill. 2d at 71.

In his brief, defendant does not discuss any of the relevant circumstances that raise an inference of discrimination. Rather, defendant relies upon the fact that he and venire members Hollins and Holmes were all African-American and that Hollins and Holmes had indicated that they could be fair and impartial. Further, in response to the State's Discussion of the relevant circumstances in its response brief, defendant contends that those circumstances are of "questionable relevance" here and again asserts that the relevant factor is that Hollins and Holmes indicated that they would sign guilty verdicts if the State proved defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

We are not persuaded that the fact that both Hollins and Holmes indicated that they could be fair establishes a prima facie case of discrimination. A venire member who states that he is incapable of being impartial will be stricken for cause and thus would not be subject to a peremptory challenge. Accordingly, in every Batson case it will be true that the challenged witness had indicated that he could be fair and impartial. Defendant's only evidence, then, that the State's exercise of its peremptory challenges was racially motivated was that he and the challenged venire members were African-American. This fact alone is not sufficient to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. People v. Andrews, 146 Ill. 2d 413, 430-31 (1992). Defendant, therefore, did not sustain his burden of establishing a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination. See Garrett, 139 Ill. 2d 189 (no finding of discrimination where only evidence offered by defendant was that five out of six peremptory challenges were against African-Americans).

Defendant also claims that the State should not be insulated from an obligation to explain its peremptory challenges simply because one African-American juror was accepted on the sworn jury. Defendant notes that in ruling on his Batson objection, the trial court said, "Even though we don't need to get to that level, the State has accepted a black juror on this jury * * *." It is true that a trial court should consider factors other than the number of African-American persons accepted and excluded by the State in determining a prima facie case. People v. Holman, 132 Ill. 2d 128, 173 (1989). Because it is not clear from the trial court's ruling whether the trial court's decision was based upon the fact that the State had accepted an African-American juror, we will review the relevant circumstances in this case despite defendant's failure to submit any evidence concerning those factors, construing any ambiguity in the record against defendant. See People v. Henderson, 142 Ill. 2d 258, 279-80 (1990).

In ruling on defendant's Batson objection, the trial court did not discuss the relevant factors other than stating that it did not find a pattern of discrimination. Because the relevant circumstances appear in the record before us and are not in dispute, we can, without remanding, determine whether a prima facie case of discrimination existed. Holman, 132 Ill. 2d at 175. Upon review, we find several factors refute a finding of purposeful discrimination. According to the State's brief, which was not disputed by defendant, the State exercised 13 peremptory challenges, 2 of which, or 15%, were against African-Americans. There were 5 African-Americans in the 70-member venire, or 7.1%. Two of the five African-American venire members were excused for cause and one woman who had an African-American father and a white mother was accepted on the sworn panel. We do not find these figures to create a pattern of discrimination. See Henderson, 142 Ill. 2d at 288 (State's use of six out of 10 peremptory challenges, or 60%, against African-Americans where make up of venire was 30% African-American, was not so disproportionate as to create a pattern of discrimination).

We also do not agree with defendant and the Dissent that, given the low number of African-Americans in the venire, defendant could never show a pattern of discrimination. We do not believe that the finding of a pattern is limited to those cases where there was a significant number of minorities on the jury venire. In fact, in a case where the sole Hispanic member of a venire was excused by the State pursuant to a peremptory challenge, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the defendant had alleged "no pattern to the State's use of peremptory challenges against Hispanic jurors which would show purposeful discrimination." People v. Pasch, 152 Ill. 2d 133, 164 (1992). "A 'pattern' of strikes is created where the strikes affect members of a certain race to such a degree or with such a lack of apparent nonracial motivation that is suggests the possibility of racial motivation." Andrews, 146 Ill. 2d at 429. In this case, for example, we might be inclined to find a pattern had the State exercised two peremptory challenges against African-Americans and none or few against whites. On the record before us, however, the facts simply do not suggest a pattern of discrimination in the use of the State's peremptory challenges.

Nor do we find that there was a disproportionate number of peremptory challenges against African-Americans. Two of the 13 challenges, or 15%, were against African-Americans, while 10 were against Caucasians and 1 was against a Chinese-American. See People v. Edwards, 144 Ill. 2d 108, 154 (1991) (no disproportionate use of peremptory challenges when four challenges were made against African-Americans and 10 against Caucasians, even though no African-Americans were on sworn jury and jury venire had been 10% African-American). We note that the Dissent finds a disproportionate use of peremptory challenges because two of the five African-American venire persons, or 40%, were challenged by the state. We disagree with this method of analysis as it does not compare the number of challenges to African-Americans with the number of challenges to others. The Illinois Supreme Court has held that "[t]he number of blacks stricken compared to the number of nonblacks stricken may reveal whether a disproportionate number of strikes was used to exclude blacks." (Emphasis added.) Andrews, 146 Ill. 2d at 430. See also Wiley, 156 Ill. 2d at 478 (Miller, C.J., Dissenting) ("The prosecution exercised 45% of its challenges against black members of the venire (5 of 11)"); Garrett, 139 Ill. 2d at 199 ("[W]e accept the following count as accurate: Of the six prospective jurors challenged by the State, five were black (83%)).

The level of African-American representation in the venire (7.1%) did not exceed that in the jury, as the jury panel that was sworn had one African-American juror out of 12, or 8.3% representation. The heterogeneity of Hollins and Holmes also tends to refute a finding of discrimination. The answers of Hollins and Holmes during voir dire raised some question concerning their ability to serve on the jury and, thus, the men shared a characteristic other than race. See Henderson, 142 Ill. 2d at 290 (sole concern of reviewing court is whether stricken venire members shared characteristic other than race; court need not search for reasons for challenge or for similarities between stricken African-American and non-challenged white venire members).

Two of the relevant factors are neutral. The trial court conducted the voir dire of the venire, so there were no statements or questions by the State during voir dire that implied purposeful racial discrimination. There also was no evidence concerning whether the race of the witnesses differed from that of defendant, so we also consider this factor to be neutral.

The only relevant factor we find that suggests purposeful discrimination, in addition to the racial identity between defendant and Hollins and Holmes, is that defendant is African-American and the victim was white. See Williams, 173 Ill. 2d at 74-75 (fact that defendant was African-American and victim was white may suggest an inference of discrimination). Because the majority of the relevant factors either refute an inference of purposeful discrimination or are neutral, we cannot say that the trial court's Conclusion that defendant failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination was against the manifest weight of the evidence. See Williams, 173 Ill. 2d at 75 (where interracial nature of crime and racial identity between defendant and excluded venire members were only factors suggesting purposeful discrimination, trial court's finding of no discrimination was not against manifest weight of the evidence).

We further note that, even if we agreed with defendant that he had established a prima facie case of discrimination, and we emphasize that we do not, we nonetheless would find that the State had offered race-neutral reasons for excluding Hollins and Holmes. We are mindful of the fact that a court should not presume or infer an unarticulated race-neutral explanation from the facts of the case. People v. Harris, 129 Ill. 2d 123, 184 (1989). We note that the trial court did not require the State to explain its reasons for challenging Hollins and Holmes during voir dire. The State, however, did set forth its reasons when it responded to defendant's posttrial motion. In its response to defendant's posttrial motion, the State said that it challenged Hollins because he had been arrested in a case of mistaken identity and because he had a nephew in jail in Lake County. With regard to Holmes, the State said that its challenge was based upon the way he spoke, his manner in answering questions, and his inattention to detail.

During voir dire, Hollins testified that three or four years earlier he had been arrested for home invasion when the crime victims identified him as the perpetrator. Hollins was held in the county jail for a few months as he tried to prove his innocence. He was released when it was determined that the arrest was based on a case of mistaken identity. Hollins told the trial court, "I have no harsh feelings about [the incident] because I [would have] probably did the same thing if I was a police officer." He also said that he did not have any bad feelings toward the State's Attorney's office "as long as they're doing their job the right way." He testified that the experience would not affect his performance as a juror. Hollins also said the fact that a nephew of his had been convicted for burglary would not affect his judgment. He had not attended any of the hearings related to the nephew's crime and had no opinion as to whether his nephew was treated fairly.

Venire member Samuel Holmes stated that he had lived in Lake County for nine years and was employed by the Lake County health department. He said that he had been robbed by two African-American men in Waukegan six or seven years previous to the trial. However, Holmes stated that this experience would not affect his ability to serve as a juror. He indicated that he understood the presumption of defendant's innocence and the State's burden of proof and said he could sign a guilty verdict if the State met its burden. The following exchange then took place between the trial court and Holmes:

"THE COURT: You may be required as a juror to look at some rather graphic photographs about injuries and the scene of the occurrence and hear testimony about that. Can you be fair and impartial in spite of those graphic photographs?

HOLMES: I don't think so.

THE COURT: You think that if you see photographs that show some serious injuries and a bloody scene that you would find the Defendant guilty of this just because of the photographs?

HOLMES: Well, it is kind of on the evidence and then and the photos. It would be hard to say.

THE COURT: Just showing photographs of severe injuries, does that cause you concern about being fair to the ...

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