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People v. Brown

December 31, 1998


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 96--CF--2557 Honorable Raymond J. McKoski, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hutchinson

Defendant, James S. Brown, was charged by indictment with two counts of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9--1(a)(2), (a)(3) (West 1996)) and two counts of aggravated arson (720 ILCS 5/20--1.1(a)(1), (a)(2) (West 1996)). Defendant was transferred from juvenile court to the criminal court system for prosecution. The cause proceeded to trial where a jury found defendant guilty of the lesser included offenses of involuntary manslaughter (720 ILCS 5/9--3 (West 1996)) and reckless conduct (720 ILCS 5/12--5 (West 1996)). The trial court entered its judgment of conviction and imposed a sentence of four years' imprisonment in the Juvenile Department of Corrections. The trial court denied defendant's posttrial motion, and defendant timely appeals.

On appeal, defendant asserts that (1) his confession was involuntary; (2) his transfer from juvenile court to the criminal court was an abuse of discretion; and (3) the trial court erred in denying his motion to transfer him back to juvenile court for sentencing purposes. We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand.

In September 1996 a hearing was conducted to determine whether defendant, who was approximately 14 years, 11 months old at the time of the offense, should be tried as an adult. See 705 ILCS 405/5--4(3) (West 1996) (pertaining to discretionary transfers). The trial court heard the testimony of several witnesses, including juvenile detective Brian Hanna, who interviewed defendant concerning the fire. Defendant told Hanna that he and Anthony Robinson were out walking and spotted a gasoline can. They picked it up, and Robinson retrieved some matches. Robinson suggested that they set garbage cans on fire. Defendant accompanied Robinson, whereupon they found a garbage can near a residence. Robinson poured gasoline in it and started a fire; they both then ran. Two additional garbage can fires were set. The record reflects that defendant was unaware that an infant had perished in a residential fire as a result of one of the fires.

Dr. Steve Peters, a clinical psychologist and director of adolescent psychology at St. Therese Hospital, performed a psychological evaluation of defendant. Dr. Peters opined that defendant would be appropriate for a residential treatment program that St. Therese recently developed. He described defendant as open and reasonably cooperative toward treatment.

Robert Schroeder, a probation officer, testified regarding placements for minors involved in arson-type offenses. Schroeder believed that defendant's behavior and his adjustment to the situation has progressively improved. He also believed that defendant was amenable to treatment, but also a significant risk to the community. He noted that defendant had no prior criminal background, with the sole exception of a branch court referral for theft. He recommended that defendant remain within the juvenile court system.

James Fuller, senior juvenile counselor at the Hulse Juvenile Center, testified that he has observed a positive change in defendant since his detention. George Saxton, a family and individual therapist with the juvenile court system, testified that defendant was amenable to treatment.

After hearing closing arguments, the juvenile court discussed defendant's flight from the scene of the fires; his accountability for the alleged offenses; his failure to warn any parties regarding the fires; and the failure to report the incident. The court concluded that sufficient evidence existed upon which a grand jury may be expected to return an indictment. The court also considered the statutory factors, determined that defendant's case should be treated in adult court, and ordered it transferred.

Defendant subsequently filed a motion to suppress his confession. At the hearing conducted on this motion, Detective Hanna testified that, on July 1, 1996, he went to defendant's home and spoke with his mother, Clotel Clark. Hanna told Clark that he needed to speak with defendant regarding some garbage cans fires that were started earlier that morning. Defendant came to the door and Hanna informed them both of his desire to speak with defendant regarding the fires. Defendant went to the squad car, and Hanna spoke with Clark further. Clark asked whether she should go to the station. Hanna "advised her that if she wanted to come down to the police station she could. It was up to her if she wanted to come. She could come and ride in [the] squad car if she wanted to." In response Clark decided she would stay home. Hanna told Clark that they would contact her when they were finished questioning defendant. Once at the station, Hanna gave defendant the Miranda warnings and the juvenile's rights warning waiver. After that process was complete, defendant admitted that he was with Anthony Robinson, and that Robinson had started all of the fires. Defendant agreed to give a written statement. Hanna and Detective Timothy Mormino typed a statement and reviewed it with defendant, who informed them that it was correct and signed the statement. After the interview had finished, Clark telephoned the police station.

On cross-examination, Hanna admitted that he had not told defendant or defendant's mother that an infant had died as a result of one of those fires. He stated that defendant and Clark were not given this information until defendant had finished making a statement to the police. Clark then visited with defendant; afterwards, Hanna transported Clark back home.

Detective Mormino testified next and generally corroborated Hanna's testimony. Howard Atlas, chair of the psychology department at the Waukegan public schools, testified regarding defendant's academic achievement. Defendant attended regular education classes, but was referred for a case study evaluation for special education in February 1996.

Dr. Peters discussed the results of his testing of defendant, which showed that defendant had a verbal scale intelligence quotient (IQ) of 80, performance scale of 86, and a full scale of 81. Peters opined that defendant would have understood the Miranda warnings given to him by the detectives.

Clark testified next. She stated that an officer came to her house and informed her that he wished to speak with defendant "about some garbage cans being set on fire." The officer told her that he wanted to take defendant downtown and ask him a few questions. Clark allowed defendant to leave with the officer. She decided it was unnecessary to accompany defendant based upon the information she had been given. Shortly thereafter, however, she decided to go to the police station. She telephoned the station and a squad car was dispatched to pick her up. Once at the station, she asked to see defendant. Defendant was brought into the room that she was in. By this time, though, Clark had learned that an infant had died in the fire and defendant had already given a statement.

Defendant testified that Hanna wanted to ask him about some fires. He accompanied the officers to the station. Defendant stated that, before Hanna read the Miranda warnings and the juvenile warnings, he asked to see his mother. He testified that he did not understand three of the warnings. On cross-examination, defendant agreed that he told the officers that he understood the warnings, but explained that he was just frustrated.

After hearing arguments, the trial court found that the waiver was made knowingly and voluntarily, was not coerced, nor was defendant's will overborne. The trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress.

Defendant's jury trial commenced November 4, 1996. Evidence adduced at trial indicated that, during the early morning hours of July 1, 1996, defendant was with his friend, Anthony Robinson. Robinson found a gas can containing gasoline. He told defendant he was going to set some garbage cans on fire, and defendant walked with him. Robinson went behind a house where an Hispanic family lived and poured gas onto a city garbage ...

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