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People v. Nieves

July 06, 2000


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rathje


9-January 2000.

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant, Hector Nieves, was convicted of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 1992)). The same jury found that defendant was eligible for the death penalty and that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the death penalty. Accordingly, the trial court sentenced defendant to death. Defendant's execution has been stayed pending direct review by this court. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §4(b); 134 Ill. 2d Rs. 603, 609(a).

On appeal, defendant argues that (1) he received the ineffective assistance of counsel when his attorney presented an invalid "mercy killing" defense; (2) he was improperly found eligible for the death penalty; (3) the trial court erred in allowing the State to introduce hearsay evidence at defendant's sentencing hearing; (4) the trial court improperly denied defendant's request to make a statement in allocution; and (5) the Illinois death penalty statute is unconstitutional. We will address each of these arguments, and the facts relating to them, in turn.


Defendant first argues that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel when his trial attorney presented an invalid "mercy killing" defense.


Defendant was indicted for the murder of Rafael Cuevas, a/k/a Pookie-Pookie. On May 10, 1992, the Chicago police found Cuevas' body in an abandoned store front building at 2452 West North Avenue. Officer Ronald Ferrari of the Chicago police department's mobile crime lab testified that he received an assignment to go to that location. Upon arriving, Ferrari observed Cuevas' body lying on a bloodstained mattress. Ferrari testified that Cuevas had suffered severe trauma to the top of his head, a gash on his forehead, and bruises on his head and face. On a table near the body, Ferrari found a bottle cap, two burnt matches, hand wipes, and alcohol swabs. According to Ferrari, these items are commonly found where people are using crack cocaine. Ferrari did not find any money on Cuevas' person.

Dr. Thamrong Chira performed the post-mortem examination. Chira found lacerations on the forehead, the right side of the head, and the face. Cuevas also had a large depressed skull fracture. Chira found that Cuevas' brain was bruised and had hemorrhaged. According to Chira, Cuevas died of craniocerebral injuries; Cuevas had received at least six blows to his head. Chira found alcohol in Cuevas' blood, but all tests for other drugs were negative. Cuevas tested positive for HIV.

John Muldoon, a former Cook County assistant State's Attorney, testified that, on May 20, 1994, he was working as a trial supervisor in the felony review unit. On that day, he received an assignment to go to New York to interview a suspect who had surrendered to the police. Muldoon flew to New York with a court reporter, Cordelia Bussie. When they arrived, they met with another Chicago detective, Louis Rabbit, and two detectives from Brooklyn. They went to a police precinct in Manhattan, and Muldoon learned that he would be speaking to defendant.

Muldoon read defendant his Miranda rights, and Muldoon and Rabbit then interviewed defendant for approximately 20 minutes. The detectives asked defendant if he would make a statement to the court reporter, and he agreed. The court reporter transcribed the statement, and defendant signed it.

In the statement, defendant confesses to killing Cuevas. Defendant states that, on May 9, 1992, he was in an abandoned building at 2452 West North Avenue with Pookie-Pookie. Defendant had known Pookie-Pookie for approximately three months; defendant knew him "from the street." At the time, defendant was living in the abandoned building.

On the date in question, at approximately 8 p.m., defendant was talking to Pookie-Pookie, and Pookie-Pookie said, "Man I tell you this shit you know. I want to die." Defendant inquired as to what manner of "shit" Pookie-Pookie referred, and Pookie-Pookie responded, "Drugs and alcohol and things like that." The conversation lasted about 10 minutes, after which Pookie-Pookie said he wanted to go to sleep. Defendant waited until Pookie-Pookie went to sleep, and then went outside for about 10 minutes.

Defendant returned with a 2 x 4 board so that he could kill Pookie-Pookie. When the detectives asked why defendant intended to kill Pookie-Pookie, defendant responded, "Because he said he wanted to die." Defendant struck Pookie-Pookie several times in the head with the 2 x 4. He did not remember exactly how many times he hit him, but he believed it was more than 5 and fewer than 10. Defendant said that he threw the board away about 10 feet from Pookie-Pookie, inside the abandoned building. Referring to the board, defendant said, "The police never find it." Defendant surrendered to the New York police two years later.

The State also presented the testimony of Cuevas' sister, Blanca Nater. Nater testified that Cuevas lived in a house with three friends at North Avenue and Fairfield. Cuevas' share of the rent was $55. Cuevas supported himself through public assistance and food stamps. Nater saw Cuevas on May 7, 1992, when she took him to pick up his public assistance check. The check was for $155, of which defendant used $55 to pay his rent. Nater spoke to Cuevas briefly on May 8. He did not seem depressed on either occasion, and Nater testified that he was always happy.

Nater testified that Cuevas was HIV positive and had a drinking problem. He was receiving treatment for HIV at St. Mary Hospital and St. Elizabeth Hospital. Nater said that Cuevas' attitude was that he would have to deal with the HIV, and she never heard him say that he wanted to die because of it. Cuevas and Nater had made plans to go to their mother's house on May 10 to celebrate Mother's Day. On cross-examination, Nater indicated that ...

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