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People v. Coleman

January 18, 2000


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice O'mara Frossard

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County

Honorable Themis N. Karnezis Judge Presiding.

Following a bench trial defendant, Stanley Coleman, was convicted of the first degree murder of his 11-month-old son, T.S. The trial court also found that under the applicable statutory guidelines it could only sentence defendant to either a term of natural life imprisonment without parole or death. The court found defendant ineligible for the death penalty and sentenced him to a term of natural life imprisonment. On appeal, defendant argues that the State's evidence was insufficient to prove him guilty of first degree murder and defendant challenges the constitutionality of the statute that mandated his natural life sentence. 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) (West 1998). We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand.


On April 6, 1997, Falona Love, T.S.' mother, called defendant and requested that defendant pick up and take care of T.S. for a few days. Despite an asthmatic condition, Love testified that T.S. was in relatively good health. Love additionally testified that she never saw defendant abuse their son, but she believed that T.S. sometimes was afraid to be with defendant. She also noticed that after a prior visit with defendant, T.S. had a bruise on his left eye and a scratch on his chest. Love denied that T.S. had recently been injured from a fall down the stairs. After picking T.S. up, defendant took him to his apartment that he shared with his girlfriend, Tonya Gooch. When they arrived at the apartment, Gooch changed T.S.' diaper and did not notice any injuries. On April 7, 1997, Gooch cared for T.S. during the morning and evening hours and testified that T.S. was in good health.

On April 8, 1997, Gooch woke T.S. up and dressed him so that he could accompany defendant to his mother's house, where defendant cared for his paraplegic brother. Gooch then went to work. Later in the day, defendant called Gooch at work. Defendant told her that he took T.S. to his mother's house and, at the house, T.S. fell off the bed and struck an adjacent table. Defendant also stated that, as a result of the fall, T.S. had a couple of bruises and his lip was puffy. Gooch told defendant to put some ice and Vaseline on T.S.' face. Defendant next went to Gooch's work with T.S. Gooch observed a couple of bruises on T.S.' face but did not notice any swelling on his lip. During the evening, Gooch babysat for T.S. while defendant attended parenting classes and did not see any new injuries on T.S. Before returning from his parenting class, defendant picked up two of his other sons, Derius and Darione, to spend the night at his apartment. Derius was four years old and Darione was two years old.

On the morning of April 9, 1997, Gooch again woke and began to dress T.S. when defendant told her that he was unable to go to work that day at his mother's house because he did not have a babysitter for his children. Gooch left defendant with his three sons and went to work. Defendant called Gooch again at work and told her that he had called an ambulance because T.S. had an asthma attack, his eyes were going back in his head, and defendant did not know what to do. Gooch did not see T.S. alive again. Gooch additionally testified that she never saw defendant abuse his children. She described defendant's older son, Derius, as "bossy" and stated he was rough with other children.

At approximately 12 p.m., on April 9, firefighters Ernis Pernae and Keith Oliver responded to an emergency call at defendant's apartment. When they arrived, defendant came down the stairs of the apartment building with T.S. and handed him to Oliver. T.S. was lifeless and not breathing. Oliver initiated CPR in the hallway of the building. Defendant told Oliver that T.S. had fallen down the stairs the day before. Defendant also appeared calm. When the paramedics arrived, they took the baby to the hospital. Defendant did not go with the paramedics to the hospital and Oliver was unsure of exactly where defendant went when the paramedics came.

At 12:30 p.m., Chicago police officer Nancy Mallory arrived at defendant's apartment. She saw the paramedics working on T.S. in the ambulance. Officer Mallory went to defendant's apartment, where she saw and spoke with defendant. Defendant told her that T.S. was on the couch drinking water and he started to vomit. Defendant stated that he picked up T.S., saw that his head went back, believed that he was not breathing, and called for help. Defendant also told Officer Mallory that the previous day T.S. had fallen out of bed and struck his head on a table. Defendant arranged for his sister to watch his children and went with Officer Mallory to the hospital. After a short wait at the hospital, a doctor informed defendant that T.S. had died.

Dr. James Filkins, a deputy medical examiner, testified that on April 10, 1997, he performed an autopsy on T.S. At the time of his death, T.S. weighed 19 pounds and measured 27½ inches in length. Dr. Filkins observed 22 separate external injuries. He noted bruises on T.S.' forehead, eyes, and elbow; a scratch on the right eye and a small abrasion below the eye; two small hemorrhages inside the right eye lid in the sclera; abrasions and scratches on the right nostril, right and left cheeks, and left jaw; abrasion and hemorrhaging on the lower lip; and a laceration to the tongue. The internal examination of T.S. by Dr. Filkins revealed substantial injuries. He observed hemorrhages on the left and right sides of T.S.' skull, over the center of his forehead, and in the left temporal muscle. Dr. Filkins further found a larger, more pronounced subgaleal hemorrhage near the front of T.S.' forehead, 15 cubic centimeters of subdural blood in the bottom of the skull cap, and a brain edema or brain swelling.

Dr. Filkins testified that to a reasonable degree of medical certainty T.S. died from blunt head trauma that caused a subdural hematoma. Dr. Filkins explained that the blunt trauma consisted of impact injuries to T.S.' head, which, in turn, caused swelling to the brain, subgaleal hemorrhages, and a subdural hematoma. All these conditions contributed to T.S.' death. Dr. Filkins additionally testified to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that asthma was not a cause of T.S.' death. According to Dr. Filkins, a "significant amount of force" caused several of the subgaleal hemorrhages because they bled into the muscles under the skull. Dr. Filkins did not believe that a fall down the stairs and a fall off a bed could have solely caused the injuries to T.S. Dr. Filkins based this opinion on the substantial number of internal injuries he observed, including bruising to the sides of the head and the brain edema.

Dr. Filkins next described a brain edema and testified that this condition develops very quickly, within a matter of hours and not within days or weeks. Dr. Filkins stated that a brain edema could be caused by shaking a child, impact injuries, or a combination of shaking and impact injuries. Dr. Filkins stated that a child's fall from a bed and the striking of a table would not involve severe enough impact to cause a brain edema. Dr. Filkins also did not believe that T.S.' alleged fall down the stairs a week before his death could have caused the brain edema because it was too remote in time. If any of these events caused the brain edema, Dr. Filkins testified, T.S. would have died at the time of the event and not a day or week later. Dr. Filkins also testified that T.S. suffered from shaken baby syndrome and described this syndrome as vigorous shaking of a child that causes internal injuries such as retinal hemorrhages, subdural hematomas, and brain edema. Dr. Filkins concluded that T.S. was subjected to abuse on the day of his death.

Dr. Elise Torczynski, an expert in ophthalmic pathology, testified that she examined the eyes of T.S. and found preretinal, intraretinal, and subretinal hemorrhages, subdural hemorrages of the optic nerve, and perineural hemorrhages. She found these conditions in both eyes. Dr. Torczynski opined that a fall or a small injury did not cause the hemorrhaging; rather, the massive amount of hemorrhaging in both eyes indicated that T.S. was violently shaken or hit against something multiple times or experienced a combination of both forms of abuse. Dr. Torczynski additionally testified that T.S. suffered from shaken baby syndrome.

Assistant State's Attorney (ASA) Sang Shim testified that he interviewed defendant on April 10, 1997, at the police station with two detectives. Defendant told him that Love called him on April 6, 1997, and asked him to pick up T.S. On April 8, 1997, he took T.S. to his mother's house and placed him on a bed. While defendant was caring for his brother, he heard a noise from the bedroom where he placed T.S. Defendant went into the bedroom and found T.S. lying face down on the carpeted floor. T.S. was not crying, but was whimpering. Defendant picked him up and placed him back in bed. Defendant stated that, at first, he did not notice any injuries on T.S. but, later in the day, he noticed bruises on his face and lips. ...

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