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People v. Harper

August 16, 2000

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
NATHANIEL HARPER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 95CF279 Honorable Donald M. Cadagin, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht

In August 1995, defendant, Nathaniel Harper, entered a partially negotiated guilty plea to first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 1994)). The trial court sentenced defendant to 50 years' imprisonment. Defendant appeals, arguing (1) his trial counsel did not file the required Supreme Court Rule 604(d) certificate (145 Ill. 2d R. 604(d)) and (2) the trial court did not properly admonish him pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 605(b) (145 Ill. 2d R. 605(b)). Defendant asks this court to remand the cause to allow compliance with Rule 604(d) and to require proper Rule 605(b) admonishments. The State concedes the absence of a Rule 604(d) certificate requires remand but maintains the trial court gave proper Rule 605(b) admonitions so defendant need not be readmonished under Rule 605(b). We disagree and remand with directions.

I. BACKGROUND

In May 1995, defendant and his paramour and roommate, Frances Meyers, returned to their garage apartment following a birthday party. Defendant and Meyers drank alcohol and used cocaine throughout the day. Early the next morning, defendant and Meyers argued. During the argument, defendant repeatedly struck Meyers with a shovel, killing her.

In August 1995, defendant entered a negotiated guilty plea to first degree murder as charged in count I (in that, without lawful justification, he struck decedent in the head and arms with a shovel, knowing such acts created a strong probability of great bodily harm to her, thereby causing her death), and the State dismissed count II (murder while committing a forcible felony, aggravated battery) and agreed to limit its sentencing recommendation to 50 years' imprisonment.

According to the State's factual basis, a witness heard a woman screaming for 15 to 20 minutes, then the woman quit screaming but started screaming again about 5 minutes later, although not as loud. About 15 minutes after the woman quit screaming the second time, a black male pulled up the garage door two or three feet, slid under it and walked along a fence to the west or front of the house. Shortly after 3 a.m., defendant called 911 from the house at the same address.

Defendant made statements to various witnesses that the victim was arguing with him and throwing beer bottles and he "snapped" and hit her with the shovel but did not know how many times he hit her. The police found the shovel in the garage with its handle broken and human blood and hair on it. A pathologist examined the decedent's body and would testify to wounds and fractures covering the decedent's entire body, a high ethanol level in her blood and urine, and a positive urine screen for cocaine.

On November 8, 1995, the trial court sentenced defendant to 50 years' imprisonment. After pronouncing the sentence, the trial court admonished defendant as follows concerning his right to appeal:

"THE COURT: [Defendant], you have the right to appeal from the proceedings held here today.

In order to appeal, you must first file within [30] days a motion to withdraw your guilty plea, setting forth in the motion all reasons for doing so.

If I allow that motion, any charges dismissed could be reinstated and the case would then be set for trial. If I deny your motion, you would then have [30] days to appeal my decision.

Any issue or claim of error not contained in your motion would be waived on appeal.

You could also appeal your sentence within [30] days of this date without filing a motion for leave to withdraw your plea of guilty.

If you are indigent, the [c]court would appoint a lawyer to assist you with any of these matters, and a transcript of these proceedings would be ...


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