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People v. Robinson

December 31, 1998


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 96--CF--2695 Honorable Raymond J. McKoski, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Geiger


Following a jury trial, the defendant, 14-year-old Anthony T. Robinson, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter (720 ILCS 5/9-- 3(a) (West 1996)) and criminal damage to property (720 ILCS 5/21--1 (West 1996)). He was sentenced to four years' imprisonment. On appeal, the defendant contends that the trial court erred when it (1) denied his motion to suppress his confession; and (2) denied his motion to transfer his case to juvenile court. We reverse and remand.

Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress the oral and written statements that he made while he was in police custody on July 1, 1996. At the suppression hearing, Officer Richard Davis of the Waukegan police department testified on behalf of the State. Officer Davis testified that, at 4 a.m. on July 1, 1996, he was called to investigate a house fire in Waukegan which had resulted in the death of a baby. Various witnesses saw the defendant and an individual named James Brown at the scene of that particular incident as well as other "garbage can fires" that occurred the same evening.

Officer Davis and two other detectives went to the defendant's home at 10 a.m. that day. When they arrived at the defendant's home, they told his mother, Estelle Robinson, that they wanted to talk to him. Estelle told the officers that the defendant had just gotten home after being out all night. When she asked why they wanted to speak to the defendant, Officer Davis advised Estelle that the defendant was implicated in three separate fires and that a person had been hurt during one of the fires. Officer Davis told Estelle that he wanted to question the defendant to find out the extent of his involvement in these incidents. He testified that he went into the defendant's bedroom and found him laying in bed. The officers then took the defendant to the police station without handcuffs.

When they arrived at the police station, Officer Davis escorted the defendant to an interview room, patted him down, and, as a precaution, asked him to remove his shoes. Officer Davis and the defendant were the only individuals present in the room. Officer Davis then asked the defendant if he knew why he had been brought to the police station. According to Officer Davis, the defendant replied, "[B]ecause of the baby.

Officer Davis told the defendant that the police were questioning Brown. Officer Davis explained that he wanted to find out about the defendant's involvement in the fires. He then presented the defendant with a waiver form and advised him of his rights. The defendant told Officer Davis that he understood his rights. Officer Davis then had the defendant read the entire form out loud. The defendant could not pronounce the word "coercion" and did not know the meaning of that word. Officer Davis explained that the word "coercion" means that "nobody forced you or beat you or threatened you to sign the form [or] do anything that you didn't want to do." After Officer Davis's explanation, the defendant signed the form.

Officer Davis then asked the defendant what had happened on the night in question. The defendant told him that, at 10 p.m., he and Brown walked by a garage and saw a gas can. The defendant took the gas can, and then he and Brown decided to "light some fires." They walked to the back of a nearby house, and the defendant poured gas on the house, the garbage can behind the house, and on the grass surrounding the garbage can. The defendant then told Brown to light the fire. After Brown started the fire, the defendant tried to extinguish it. However, the defendant was unable to put out the fire, and eventually he and Brown left the scene.

The defendant told Officer Davis that, after setting the first fire, two boys who were riding bicycles began to chase them. After eluding the two boys, the defendant and Brown went to a nearby alley where they started a second fire in another garbage can. After they watched this second fire, they went to another alley and started a third fire in yet another garbage can.

After describing these events to Officer Davis, the defendant identified Brown's photograph. The defendant then wrote a statement. In this statement, he wrote that he and Brown had decided to "burn some garbage cans but *** no house." After Officer Davis read the defendant's handwritten statement, he asked the defendant why he failed to state that he had poured gasoline on the house in question. The defendant replied that he was afraid. The defendant then signed the statement.

Officer Davis also testified that he typed the oral statement that the defendant made to him. After typing this statement, Officer Davis read it to the defendant. The defendant made three corrections to the statement and then signed the typed statement.

On cross-examination, Officer Davis testified that, while he was at the defendant's house, he did not explain to his mother that the defendant would be asked to waive his rights. In addition, he did not tell her that the defendant was under arrest.

The State also presented the testimony of Officer Irwin Grimes of the Waukegan police department. Officer Grimes testified that, in 1992, he took the defendant into custody for an unrelated incident and advised him of his rights. On that occasion, the defendant chose to waive his rights. Following his waiver, Officer Grimes took a statement from the defendant. Officer Grimes could not recall if the defendant was given a station adjustment or if his case was sent to juvenile court. According to Officer Grimes, when a statement adjustment is given, no further action is taken against the defendant.

The State next presented the testimony of Officer Michael Donnenwirth, a juvenile detective for the Waukegan police department. Officer Donnenwirth testified that, on June 25, 1996, he questioned the defendant regarding the theft of a dog. Prior to questioning the defendant, Officer Donnenwirth asked him to review a waiver form. Officer Donnenwirth testified that the ...

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