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People v. Woidtke

April 26, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 88-CF-625 Honorable Richard A. Aguirre, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Chapman

Defendant was convicted of the first-degree murder of Audrey Cardenas by the court sitting without a jury on August 25, 1989. Defendant was sentenced to 45 years' imprisonment on September 28, 1989. After an unsuccessful petition for relief from judgment, defendant took a direct appeal, and this court affirmed his conviction. See People v. Woidtke, 224 Ill. App. 3d 791, 587 N.E.2d 1101 (1992). Defendant filed a pro se post-conviction petition in July 1992, but no hearing was ever had on the petition. There was very little activity in defendant's case until January 1998, when Public Defender Brian Trentman, who had represented him since his indictment in 1988, withdrew as counsel for defendant. Defendant's current counsel, Jenkins & Kling, entered on his behalf on March 23, 1998. Defendant filed an amended petition for post-conviction relief on May 5, 1998. The court dismissed all but one of the claims in defendant's petition. The court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the remaining claim of conflict of interest and, following the hearing, ruled in the State's favor. It is from the court's rulings on defendant's post-conviction petition claims that defendant now appeals. We reverse and remand.


In order to fully analyze the issues in defendant's post-conviction petition, we find it necessary to first review the evidence presented at defendant's trial. Audrey Cardenas was hired as an intern at the Belleville News-Democrat (News-Democrat) in the summer of 1988, and she moved to the Belleville area around June 9, 1988. Cardenas was assigned to follow reporter Carolyn Tuft, and other reporters, on their News-Democrat beats from June 15 through June 17, 1988. June 19, 1988, was the last time anyone saw Cardenas alive. Her body was found in a creek behind Belleville East Township High School on June 26, 1988. Cardenas's body was partially decomposed when found, and though the medical examiner was not able to determine a cause of death, she did deem the death a homicide. The medical examiner stated her findings indicate that Cardenas did not die from a blow to the head.

On June 26, 1988, the day the Cardenas body was discovered in the creek, defendant Rodney Woidtke was seen by police officers inside the area of the crime scene, which was marked off by crime scene tape. Detective Boyne of the Belleville police tried to stop defendant, who advanced to within 150 yards of the officers in the crime scene area, but defendant was staring and non-responsive to his command to stop. Defendant was carrying a knapsack, which he allowed the police to search. The knapsack contained personal items belonging to defendant, including letters regarding sexual fantasies of defendant. The officers decided to take defendant to the police station to be questioned.

Once at the police station, defendant was put in an interview room with Detectives Boone and Wagner. Boone admitted that he said to defendant in a "firm voice," "You did this-didn't you?" Defendant told the officers that he did not kill or hurt anyone. Boone then asked defendant some questions regarding his sexual preference, which upset defendant a great deal. He stated that he "didn't want to be a homo[sexual]," and he refused to speak any more with Boone. Boone left the room and Wagner continued the questioning of defendant. In the interview, defendant stated that he had previously been in a mental institution in Alton and that he hears voices. He also said that he has always had problems relating to women. Defendant then went on to describe his involvement in what happened to Cardenas. He stated that he wanted to have sex with Cardenas but she refused. He said he pulled her clothes off, and she ran away. He claimed that he then hit her in the head with a pipe and tried to rape her but was unsuccessful. He then claimed that he put her pants back on her and left her. He said he did not zip her pants back up before he left her.

Boone then asked defendant where he kept his clothes, since defendant claimed that he lived in the woods. Defendant offered to take the officer to where his clothes were. On the way to retrieve his clothes, defendant told Boone that he made up the confession and that he did not do anything to Cardenas.

Boone told defendant twice during the interview not to confess if he was not involved in the Cardenas murder. When asked why he so advised defendant, Boone stated that it was because he had doubts about whether defendant was being truthful. In fact, Boone told defense counsel one month before the trial, and testified at trial, that he was still not sure that defendant committed the murder.

Sargent Heffernan also interviewed defendant on June 26, 1988. Defendant told Heffernan that he killed Cardenas but did not rape her. He stated that he did not hit Cardenas with a pipe and that when he left her, he thought she was still alive. Defendant alleged that Cardenas was wearing white, pink, and blue clothes when he attacked her. Heffernan testified that in his opinion, at the time of the interview, there was no doubt that defendant had mental problems. Defendant requested that Heffernan allow him to speak with a female detective.

Debra Morgan, a criminal investigator, was brought in to interview defendant on June 28, 1988. Defendant told Morgan that he asked to speak with her because he was afraid that the male police officers would think that he was homosexual because of his habit of putting his hands in his lap. He also stated that he lied to the other officers and that he thought that they were going to find him guilty just because he was at the crime scene. He was convinced then that he would spend his life in jail. When Morgan questioned defendant about his encounter with Cardenas, defendant told her that he tried to have sex with Cardenas and that she fought him and tried to run away. He said that he hit her in the head with a pipe three or four times. He stated that when he attacked her, he saw tattoos on Cardenas's legs and that she was wearing a pink, blue, and white shirt, purple shorts, and high-heeled shoes. He also said that he did not see her jogging on the track at the high school and that she was not sweating and did not in any way appear as though she had been exercising.

Defendant's mental health was analyzed by Dr. Daniel Cuneo, who testified at trial that defendant is a schizophrenic paranoid type. Defendant is extremely paranoid, hears voices, and is preoccupied with sex. Dr. Cuneo testified that he believes that defendant claimed to have had sex with Cardenas to prevent police from thinking that he was homosexual. In fact, when Boone asked defendant at the initial interview if he was homosexual, it may have triggered defendant's subsequent confessions. Defendant's fear of being perceived as a homosexual was conveyed repeatedly to Dr. Cuneo. He even stated that he was sometimes afraid to eat, since the act of putting food in his mouth could be seen as similar to performing fellatio and defendant would therefore be seen as homosexual. Dr. Cuneo stated that he believed that at the time he gave his statements to the police, defendant was hallucinating, actively schizophrenic, delusional, and unmedicated. These factors, in Dr. Cuneo's opinion, explain the inconsistency of defendant's statements. Therefore, in July 1988, Dr. Cuneo deemed defendant unfit to stand trial. In July 1989, after defendant was medicated and received therapy for one year, Dr. Cuneo determined that defendant was able to stand trial.

Defendant was charged with the murder of Audrey Cardenas on August 16, 1988. Brian Trentman of the Public Defender's office was appointed to represent defendant. Thereafter, defendant was found unfit to stand trial and was remanded to the custody of the Chester Mental Health Center until July 1989, when he was found fit to stand trial. Defendant waived his right to a jury and was tried before Judge Aguirre during the week of August 22 to August 25, 1989. On August 25, 1989, defendant was found guilty of the murder of Cardenas, and on September 28, 1989, he was sentenced to 45 years' imprisonment.

On September 27, 1989, Jolaine Lanman and her three-year-old son were murdered in their home. Dale Anderson was convicted of the Lanman murders, and this court upheld his conviction. See People v. Anderson, 237 Ill. App. 3d 621, 604 N.E.2d 546 (1992). Before he murdered Jolaine Lanman, Anderson forced her to write a note stating that the people who killed her also killed Cardenas. The note listed the license plate numbers of Anderson's supervisors at the Illinois Department of Public Aid.

On October 2, 1989, defendant filed a pro se petition for relief from judgment, alleging that the murder of Jolaine and Kenneth Lanman were similar to the Cardenas murder. The court appointed Trentman to represent defendant in his petition for relief from judgment. Trentman never filed a supplemental petition for relief detailing the similarities of the Lanman and Cardenas murders. In July 1992, defendant filed a pro se post-conviction petition alleging trial error and ineffective assistance and requesting counsel other than Trentman. On August 14, 1992, the court appointed Trentman to represent defendant in his post-conviction efforts. On October 31, 1994, defendant wrote a letter to the clerk of the St. Clair County Circuit Court, stating he believed that Trentman had withdrawn from his case and requesting that new counsel be appointed. In the record, there is no response to this request. On January 12, 1998, after Trentman was elected State's Attorney in Washington County, he withdrew as counsel for defendant. No hearing on defendant's post-conviction petition was held between 1992 and 1998.

Defendant's current counsel was allowed to enter on behalf of defendant and filed his amended petition for post-conviction relief on May 5, 1998. The petition alleged a freestanding claim of innocence based on newly discovered evidence that someone else was responsible for the Cardenas murder. It also asserted that defendant did not receive effective assistance of counsel due to several trial errors and due to the fact that Trentman was laboring under a conflict of interest during his representation of defendant.

Without an evidentiary hearing, the court dismissed defendant's claims with respect to his freestanding claim of innocence and his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel due to various trial errors. The only remaining issue from the amended petition was defendant's claim that he was provided ineffective assistance of counsel because his court-appointed public defender labored under a conflict of interest between his representation of defendant and his representation of Dale Anderson, another client. After a hearing on this issue, the court denied this claim for relief in an order dated April 14, 1999. It is from the court's orders on the amended petition that defendant currently appeals.


First, defendant claims that the trial court erred in dismissing without an evidentiary hearing his claim of freestanding innocence based on newly discovered evidence. Illinois law provides that an evidentiary hearing on a post-conviction petition is required when the petition makes a substantial showing of a violation of defendant's constitutional rights. See People v. Coleman, 183 Ill. 2d 366, 381, 701 N.E.2d 1063, 1072 (1998). A dismissal is warranted only when defendant's allegations of fact, liberally construed in favor of defendant and in light of the original trial record, fail to make a substantial showing of imprisonment in violation of the constitution. See Coleman, 183 Ill. 2d at 382, 701 N.E.2d at 1072. The appropriate standard of review where a post-conviction petition has been dismissed without an evidentiary hearing is that of plenary review. See Coleman, 183 Ill. 2d at 389, 701 N.E.2d at 1075. Since "the circuit court is not in an appreciably better position than the reviewing court to determine whether the ...

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