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People v. Peterson

August 19, 1999


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County, Illinois Nos. 96--CF--552 96--CF--553 Honorable J. Todd Kennedy, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Slater


Defendants, James and Janice Peterson, were charged with five counts of intimidation (720 ILCS 5/12--6 (West 1996)) and four counts of threatening a public official (720 ILCS 5/12--9 (West 1996)). Following a jury trial, the defendants were found guilty but mentally ill (GBMI). The defendants were sentenced to concurrent five-year terms of imprisonment for intimidation; the convictions for threatening a public official were vacated. On appeal, defendants contend (1) that the State failed to prove them guilty of intimidation beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) that the application of the GBMI statute resulted in a denial of due process; (3) that the intimidation statute, as applied to the defendants, violated their rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of their religious beliefs; (4) that defense counsel was ineffective; and (5) that the improper admission of certain testimony deprived them of a fair trial. We affirm.


The charges against the defendants arose from letters they sent to three Lake County circuit court Judges, an administrator for the Village of Hawthorn Woods (the village), and a newspaper reporter. Defendants had been involved in a dispute over the construction of a house in Hawthorn Woods. The village eventually brought an action to demolish the defendants' partially constructed home. The house was demolished pursuant to the order of the circuit court of Lake County. Thereafter, defendants sent the letters that formed the bases for the intimidation charges.


The trial began with the testimony of John Kalmar, village administrator for Hawthorn Woods. Kalmar's duties included overseeing the day-to-day operations of the village and the enforcement of codes and ordinances. In December 1991 a building permit for the construction of a residential structure was issued to the defendants. The permit was good for 15 months. The defendants listed themselves as the general contractors and indicated that they had no architect or builder. They worked with the village architect to bring their plans into compliance with the village codes and ordinances.

The permit expired in February 1993, before the construction was completed, and the defendants applied to renew it. Kalmar said there was nothing unusual about that. The permit was extended for seven months through September 30, 1993. The extension was longer than the three months that usually were allowed because the defendants were doing the work themselves and had run into some difficulties.

According to Kalmar, defendants' progress on the home was very slow. The construction site was surrounded by upscale homes and neighbors began complaining to Kalmar about the uncompleted project. Kalmar said he contacted the defendants in August 1993 to remind them of the imminent permit expiration date. The defendants did not apply for another extension.

The day after the permit expired, the Village of Hawthorn Woods issued a stop-work order for the site. The defendants did not apply for a new permit. They did write letters to Kalmar concerning the situation. Kalmar tried to call the defendants several times and left messages on their answering machine. His calls were not returned. Both Kalmar and the village president tried to arrange a meeting with the defendants, but they did not attend. Late in October 1993, the village board authorized Kalmar to take legal action against the defendants, either to force them to complete the project or to obtain a court order for its demolition.

Kalmar and the defendants continued to exchange letters through April of 1994. Kalmar said that his letters to the defendants directed them to go to the village architectural review commission and request the renewal of the permit. The defendants did not do so. They informed Kalmar that they believed that some sort of "grandfathering" provision rendered a permit extension unnecessary and that they had an unlimited amount of time to complete their project, an assumption that was not accurate.

Kalmar and the village attorney commenced an action against the defendants in the Lake County circuit court in April 1994. The case, which was litigated for about a year, began before Judge Stephen Walter. Appearances also were made before Judge William Block. The final ruling was entered by Judge Terrence Brady.

Judge Walter testified that the defendants represented themselves in the civil action filed by the Village of Hawthorn Woods. The defendants appeared before Judge Walter 10 or 12 times. In December 1994, Judge Walter ruled for the village. Rather than ordering demolition at that time, however, he gave the defendants 30 days in which to obtain a building permit and 90 days in which to make substantial progress toward the completion of the construction project. Because substantial progress was not made, the case was eventually set for a hearing on the village's request for a demolition order. On the day set for the hearing, May 5, 1995, Judge Walter was out of town. Judge Brady was assigned to handle Judge Walter's motion call that morning. Judge Brady testified that when the case was called, he asked the defendants if they wanted a continuance to hire a lawyer. The defendants said that they did not want to participate in a hearing. They told Judge Brady that they believed the court did not have the authority to order the demolition of their property. Based on findings of fact made earlier by Judge Walter, Judge Brady issued the demolition permit to the village. However, the enforcement of the order was stayed for 30 days.

After receiving adverse rulings from the Appellate Court, Second District, the defendants' house was demolished in September 1995. About two weeks after the demolition, the village attorney received a letter from the defendants requesting the return of building materials, tools, and accessories that had been stored in the structure. The defendants were given an opportunity to pick the things up but did not do so. Thereafter, Kalmar received letters from the defendants demanding money. The defendants also filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking $10,000,000 compensation for their losses.

Around February 20, 1996, two letters in a single envelope addressed to Kalmar were delivered to the village hall. The letters were admitted into evidence at trial and read to the jury. The first letter was signed "Almighty God" and the second was signed "Jim and Jan Peterson, Servants of Almighty God." Both were dated February 19, 1996. The first letter read in part:

"I know who your father is--the Father of Lies. Your time is short, too, like your father, but for now you will have to decide how many of your servants you want Me, God Almighty, Lord of Lords, to take before you pay My servants, Jim and Jan Peterson, for what you have stolen from them. You shall lose much more money and people unless you quit now. It's up to you. I can kill all your servants if you like now, or we can end this now by paying My servants for their losses and then some, or else you will lose your life, for your time is short also."

"I have spoken. Do it now or be destroyed, you son of Satan."

"Almighty God"

"P.S. I will take everything you have if need be--wife, kids, all possessions, and any further contact you have with your father, who is not happy with you. You decide. It's up to you, for I am God Almighty, Mighty Lord of Lords. Precious are My servants in My eyes."

The second letter read in part:

"[W]e are giving you five days to settle with us for the amount of eight ...

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