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People v. Becerril

September 02, 1999


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hall

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable James M. Schreier, Judge Presiding.

Defendant, Jesus "Jesse" Becerril (defendant), was convicted of first degree murder and robbery. On appeal, defendant contends that: (1) he was denied effective assistance of counsel; (2) the State failed to establish the victim's identity beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress his confession; (4) his due process rights were violated by the State's failure to test his blood for cocaine; (5) the trial court erred in admitting other crimes evidence; and (6) the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the offense of concealment of a homicidal death.

The following facts are relevant to this appeal. In 1984, the victim, Ofer "Josh" Dagan, moved to Chicago from Israel. Dagan soon met Mohammed Mansoori, Arik Mizrachi, and Modesto Echezaretta.

On October 13, 1993, Dagan met with friends for dinner. Dagan told his friends that he had a meeting with some "bad people." Prior to leaving the restaurant, Dagan made plans to meet his friends after his 11:00 p.m. meeting. Dagan never met his friends.

On October 14, 1993, Modesto told Arik that he was looking for Dagan because Dagan had "screwed him over" for a lot of money. Modesto told Arik and Mansoori that he paid Dagan $225,000 for 10 kilos of cocaine, but Dagan never showed up with the cocaine. On October 16, 1993, Dagan's car was found at O'Hare International Airport. On October 20, 1993, Officer David Suerth was assigned to investigate a missing person's report involving Dagan. Dagan had been reported missing around October 19, 1993, by his brother Adi.

On November 27, 1993, the remains of a body were discovered inside of a boiler. The body was taken to the morgue where Dr. Kalelkar performed an autopsy. The corpse was severely burned and in an advanced stage of decomposition. Kalelkar determined that the body was that of a white male. An internal examination revealed a 1 1/2-inch defect in the neck area. Kalelkar stated that the defect was consistent with ligature strangulation. The cause and manner of death as well as the identity of the victim were unknown.

On April 13, 1994, Officer Robert Rutherford was assigned to investigate the "Troche" home invasion. On April 15, 1994, police arrested Gerald Pittman and Modesto for the break-in. Police began to search for defendant, who was identified as the third cooffender in this incident.

In July 1994, United States Marshall Steven David submitted Dagan's dental records to Kalelkar. On July 30, 1994, Dr. John Kenney, a forensic dentist and expert in odontology, reviewed the dental records. After comparing the X rays of the corpse found on November 27, 1993, with Dagan's predeath X rays, Kenney identified the "John Doe" as Dagan. Additionally, a visual examination of the corpse's dental work matched Dagan's records. On August 28, 1994, Officer Janko stopped a mini-van for a traffic infraction. Janko asked the driver, defendant, for a license. Janko recovered a loaded semi-automatic 9 millimeter pistol from the van.

On January 14, 1995, defendant was arrested on an outstanding weapons warrant. On January 16, 1995, the Troches, victims of a home invasion, identified defendant as one of the perpetrators from a police photograph. On January 17, 1995, defendant was arrested for home invasion. Defendant was given his Miranda rights and indicated that he understood those rights. Defendant was searched and taken to the lockup.

Upon entering the lockup, defendant was visually examined. No signs of distress or a drug-induced state were noted. Defendant was again advised of his rights. Defendant acknowledged those rights. Assistant State's Attorney (ASA) Rosenthal handwrote defendant's statement with his consent.

With respect to the home invasion, defendant told Rosenthal that on April 13, 1994, he, Modesto and Pittman went to the Troche home because someone there owed Modesto money. Defendant, Modesto, and Pittman wore Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) hats and bulletproof vests. Modesto knocked at the front door and told those inside that he had a search warrant. Modesto forced the man and woman into a bedroom while defendant guarded them. Modesto and Pittman searched the house for money and cocaine. The trio left 20 minutes later.

On January 18, 1995, at approximately 12:30 a.m., defendant was informed of his rights and questioned about the murder of Ofer Dagan. He acknowledged those rights and gave a statement about the murder of Dagan. Neither Rosenthal nor any other person told defendant that he would be treated as a witness regarding the murder. Defendant was allowed to make a phone call. Defendant called his wife. Neither defendant nor his wife called an attorney. Around 2 a.m., defendant and officers proceeded to the garage where defendant said the murder of Dagan had taken place.

On January 18, 1995, defendant was returned to the lock-up at 7 a.m. Around 7 p.m., ASA Burns gave defendant the Miranda warning. Defendant indicated that he wanted to make a court- reported statement about Dagan's death. After the statement was transcribed, Burns reviewed the statement with defendant. Defendant made a correction to the statement.

With respect to the murder of Ofer Dagan, defendant told Burns that on October 13, 1993, Modesto called defendant and told defendant to meet him at a warehouse. Dagan was to pick up payment for drugs that Dagan had given Modesto. When defendant arrived, Dagan was on the floor, face down, hands cuffed behind his back, and gagged. Modesto had an extension cord around Dagan's neck. Modesto was choking Dagan with the cord. Modesto told defendant to close the door and look out for anyone who might have been with Dagan. Dagan was kicking his legs. About 15 minutes later, Modesto uncuffed Dagan. The men threw Dagan into a tarp and placed his body inside the trunk of Dagan's car. Modesto and Pittman gave defendant a kilo of cocaine and told him to "shut ...

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