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People v. Stevens

August 03, 2000


Appeal from Circuit Court of Vermilion County No. 92CF455 Honorable Claudia S. Anderson, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Cook

In 1993, a jury convicted defendant, Randall Wayne Stevens, of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1 (West 1992)), and the trial court sentenced him to natural life in prison. In March 1996, this court affirmed defendant's conviction. People v. Stevens, No. 4-93-0725 (March 26, 1996) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). In May 1999, defendant filed a motion for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing (725 ILCS 5/116-3 (West 1998), added by Pub. Act 90-141, §5, eff. January 1, 1998 (1997 Ill. Laws 2461, 2461)), and the trial court summarily denied the motion. Defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his motion without holding a hearing. We affirm.


Only the facts pertinent to this appeal, as stated in our 1996 decision, will be repeated here.

At trial, Catherine Porter and Josh Sandlin testified that on December 8, 1992, they met defendant, Frank Allen Rahm, and Dexter Patton at the Lincoln Lanes bowling alley and eventually they went to the Friendship Inn, where defendant rented a room. Stevens, slip order at 1.

Porter testified that while she was watching television, she heard defendant say, "Sacrifice." Defendant reached down and began choking Rahm, who had passed out during a card game, with one hand. He asked Patton for his knife, but Patton refused. Defendant began to choke Rahm with both hands while beating Rahm's head against a chair. Defendant choked Rahm with one hand while hitting Rahm's side with his other hand. Rahm was still lying on the ground, breathing hard. Defendant asked Sandlin to kick Rahm, and Sandlin complied. Defendant then began kicking Rahm.

Someone threw defendant a pillowcase, and defendant twisted it around Rahm's neck. Defendant pulled a telephone cord from the wall and used it to strangle Rahm. Sandlin testified that defendant first used the telephone cord and then the pillowcase to choke Rahm.

Eventually, Rahm stopped breathing. Patton asked defendant what he was going to do with the body, and defendant replied, "Watch." Defendant carried Rahm out of the hotel room (Stevens, slip order at 3) onto the third-floor balcony. He returned without the body. Porter testified defendant said, "I tried to throw him in the [D]umpster, but I missed." Sandlin testified that defendant said, "You should have heard the noise it made." Defendant, Porter, Sandlin, and Patton stayed in the room and were there when the police arrived to investigate Rahm's body, which had been found lying next to the hotel Dumpster.

Dr. Sharon Schnittker testified that Rahm suffered extensive external injuries to his head, neck, chest, and torso. The injuries to his neck were consistent with manual strangulation followed by the use of a cord or ligature. Rahm's death was caused by blunt force trauma, with strangulation a contributing factor. Rahm's injuries were consistent with his being struck about the chest, strangled with hands and a cord, the upper portion of his head being hit against a chair, and his body being thrown from a height of 22 feet. Stevens, slip order at 3.

The jury found defendant guilty and the trial court sentenced him to natural life in prison. On direct appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred in admitting autopsy photographs into evidence. This court affirmed.

In May 1999, defendant filed a pro se motion for DNA testing, pursuant to section 116-3 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) (725 ILCS 5/116-3 (West 1998)). Defendant requested DNA testing be performed on the bloody fingerprint found on People's exhibit No. 15, the pillowcase used to choke Rahm. Defendant asserted that the "testing is for the purpose of unequivocally establishing petitioner's actual innocence." Defendant conceded that the technology for this testing was available at the time of trial but argued that the evidence was not because he did not learn of the bloody fingerprint until the time of trial because of the State's discovery violation. The trial court summarily denied defendant's motion, finding that identity was not an issue in the case and the statute was therefore not applicable. This appeal followed.


This court reviews de novo a trial court's decision made as a matter of law. People v. Savory, 309 Ill. App. 3d 408, 412, 722 N.E.2d 220, 223 (1999) (holding de novo review appropriate where the trial court's decision is based on the pleadings and a review of the transcripts, as opposed to witness credibility); see also People v. Coleman, 183 Ill. 2d 366, 388-89, 701 N.E.2d 1063, 1075 (1998) (dismissal of a post-conviction petition without an evidentiary hearing is reviewed de novo). Because the trial court here summarily denied defendant's motion, we review that judgment de novo.

Section 116-3 allows a defendant to make a motion for "DNA testing on evidence that was secured in relation to the trial which resulted in his or her conviction, but which was not subject to the testing which is now requested because the technology for the testing was not available at the time of trial." 725 ILCS 5/116-3(a) (West 1998). The defendant must present a prima facie case showing (1) identity was the issue at trial, and (2) the evidence to be tested has been subject to a chain of custody sufficient to establish that it has not been substituted, tampered with, replaced, or altered in any material aspect. 725 ILCS 5/116-3(b)(1), (b)(2) (West 1998). A trial court shall allow DNA testing under reasonable conditions upon determining that (1) the result of the testing has the "scientific potential to produce new, ...

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