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People v. Houser

May 28, 1999


Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 96CF492 Honorable John G. Townsend, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht

Following a jury trial in May 1997, defendant,Stacey M. Houser, was convicted of armed robbery (720 ILCS 5/18-2 (West 1996)), sentenced to nine years' imprisonment with credit for 47 days served, and ordered to reimburse Champaign County $300 for public defender fees pursuant to section 113-3.1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) (725 ILCS 5/113-3.1 (West 1996)). Defendant appeals, claiming (1) the trial court abused its discretion by precluding a necessity defense; (2) the trial court erred by admitting into evidence two prejudicial documents as the basis of an expert witness' opinion; (3) the State failed to prove she was not compelled to commit robbery beyond a reasonable doubt; (4) the errors in the trial court cumulatively warrant reversal; (5) she is entitled to two additional days' sentence credit; and (6) imposition of the recoupment order prior to services being rendered and without a hearing was error. We agree with defendant on the first and last issues and vacate the recoupment order, reverse the judgment, and remand.


In February 1996, defendant was a patient at the Prairie Center (Center) in Champaign, Illinois. She was undergoing treatment for addiction to crack cocaine. While at the Center, defendant met Richard Rowe and a relationship developed. Defendant and Rowe were both discharged from the Center on March 1, 1996, and, according to defendant's testimony, they moved into defendant's farmhouse in Tolono. After a few days, Rowe found himself uncomfortable living at the farmhouse and the couple moved to the Prospect Motel in Champaign.

Defendant testified Rowe became abusive toward her sometime between the first and second week after leaving the Center, and both defendant and Rowe resumed drug use. Defendant's testimony included several specific incidents of abuse though she was unable to place them in time or chronological order. Rowe would not allow defendant any privacy. He accompanied her when she used the bathroom and he would not allow her to use the telephone or to leave the motel room without him. On one occasion Rowe punched defendant in the face for "fronting" him in the presence of his friends when she suggested she drive. When defendant said she thought her nose was broken, Rowe punched her again just "for sure." Rowe forced defendant to have sex with a man and, on a separate occasion, with a woman, while he watched. Defendant also witnessed Rowe brutally beating others and specifically recalled Rowe beating a man with a baseball bat. Rowe often abruptly stopped a violent assault and stared or laughed at his victim.

Defendant worked at the Bigfoot Amoco in Mahomet from March 30 through April 11, 1996. Defendant testified Rowe dropped her off and picked her up for her shifts. The store manager testified he never noticed bruises on the defendant, and on at least one occasion, defendant drove herself to work. Defendant testified there were no beatings during the time she was employed, she had to give Rowe all her earnings, and she quit the job upon Rowe's insistence.

On the night of April 24, according to defendant's testimony, Rowe ordered defendant into the car "for a ride." Defendant admitted she used crack cocaine earlier that day. Rowe parked the car alongside the Bigfoot Amoco store and went inside to purchase beer and cigarettes. When the cashier requested identification, Rowe said he would be back and went out to the car. Rowe returned to the counter twice, where each time the cashier requested identification and Rowe did not have it.

Defendant testified after Rowe returned to the car for the last time, he held a knife to her throat and told her she would help him rob the store or he would kill the cashier and then kill defendant. Rowe then pulled the car up to one of the gas pumps and began pumping gas. While he was pumping gas, the cashier, who had grown suspicious, wrote down his license plate number. Defendant entered the store, walked behind the counter, and attempted to take the keys to the register from the cashier.

While they struggled over the keys, Rowe came in and tried to convince the cashier to give defendant the keys by telling her "Todd" (the store manager) said it was okay. When his ploy failed, Rowe jumped over the counter and attacked the cashier. While Rowe and the cashier struggled, defendant opened the register and put the cash contents into a plastic bag, emptied the cash box, and checked the spare drawer, which is usually set up for the next shift. Meanwhile, Rowe wrestled the cashier to the floor, straddled her torso, and cut her neck with a knife. At some point in the struggle Rowe told defendant to go out to the car, which she did. The cashier testified Rowe abruptly stopped the assault and stared at her, then got up and walked back to the customer side of the sales counter. Rowe ordered the cashier to stay on the floor, assaulted her once more (ripping off her necklace), demanded she hand him some cigarettes, and left the store. After a short time, the cashier called 9-1-1.Police apprehended Rowe and defendant after a brief car chase and minor crash. Rowe fled on foot and defendant waited at the car while the police officer pursued him. At the time of the arrest defendant had a knife in her possession which she testified she carried on Rowe's orders as a backup in the event he needed to defend himself.

The store manager testified the following items were missing from the store after the robbery: $496 currency, cigarettes, beer, and lottery tickets. Police recovered empty beer cans, lottery tickets, and a bag of cash from Rowe's car. Police also recovered defendant's handbag containing a cellular phone and a pager from Rowe's car. Defendant testified the phone was given to Rowe by a fellow patient at the Center and they never used it because they did not have the code to "unlock" it.

Defendant's discovery response disclosed the intention to raise a compulsion defense. On the morning of jury selection, defense counsel filed a third response to discovery informing the State of its intention to alternatively raise a necessity defense. The State objected to the filing because it was untimely. The trial court heard arguments, ruled in favor of the State, and barred defendant from making a necessity defense.

Dr. Arthur Traugott testified as an expert witness for the defense. He opined defendant suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of repeated beatings and forced sex and witnessing Rowe's brutality against others. Traugott testified he believes defendant was abused by Rowe and his belief in her credibility is supported by the consistency of her story, her symptoms, tests he administered, and comparison of her story to other information he was provided by defense counsel. Finally, Traugott testified he believed defendant was compelled to commit the robbery, in accordance with the statutory definition of compulsion.

The jury found defendant guilty of armed robbery and not guilty of aggravated battery. She was sentenced to nine years' imprisonment with credit for 47 days as time served.


A. Preclusion of the Necessity Defense as a ...

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