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People v. Rokita

September 08, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County. No. 93-CF-501 Honorable David W. Watt, Jr., Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rarick

The defendant, Frederick M. Rokita, was convicted in the circuit court of Jackson County of five counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault and one count each of home invasion, residential burglary, and theft, all arising out of an attack on C.S.

At a bench trial held on May 9, 1994, and presided over by the Honorable David W. Watt, Jr., C.S. testified that in the early morning hours of November 13, 1993, she was awakened by the sound of dishes rattling in the kitchen of her mobile home. When she got out of bed to investigate, she saw a man standing at the end of the hallway. He grabbed her and ordered her into the bedroom. C.S. testified that she had the opportunity to observe her attacker for 15 to 20 minutes.

During the sexual assault that followed, C.S. could not see her attacker because either she had her eyes closed or her face was covered by bedding. C.S. testified that her attacker did not ejaculate. At some point, C.S. escaped and ran to a neighbor's trailer for help. As she was knocking on the door, her assailant came toward her and stood several feet from her for a period of 30 to 40 seconds.

Several days after the attack, C.S. assisted a sketch artist in preparing a composite sketch of her attacker. On November 23, 1993, Rokita was arrested by a Carbondale police officer who noticed a resemblance between Rokita and the sketch.

Prior to Rokita's arrest, C.S. had described her attacker as wearing a plaid shirt. Following Rokita's arrest, the police executed a search warrant of Rokita's home and found two pictures of him wearing a plaid shirt. When shown the photographs, C.S. recognized Rokita as her attacker, and she recognized the plaid shirt he was wearing in the photograph as being the shirt her attacker had worn.

Peggy Huffstotler, a neighbor of C.S.'s, testified that around 5 a.m. on November 13, 1993, she was awakened by a knock on the door. She answered the knock and spoke through her screen door for about five minutes with a man whom she identified as Rokita. Huffstotler testified that the man asked if "Jason" lived there. Huffstotler further testified that the man returned about 30 minutes later, knocked on her door again, and shouted obscenities.

Chris Stark testified that he had allowed Rokita to stay in his mobile home for a short time prior to November 12, 1993. Stark stated that around 3 a.m. on November 13, 1993, he and Rokita had an argument. Rokita left and walked off in the direction of Carbondale, toward C.S.'s trailer park. Stark last saw Rokita about a mile from the trailer park.

Shortly after the attack, C.S. was taken to the hospital, where sexual assault evidence was taken, including vaginal and rectal swabs, as well as blood and saliva samples. Sperm cells were found on the rectal swab. No sperm cells were found on the vaginal swab, but it tested positive for the presence of semen. Samples from vaginal and rectal swabs, as well as blood-stain samples from both Rokita and C.S., were forwarded to the Illinois State Police Forensic Science Laboratory in Springfield, Illinois (State lab), for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing.

The State lab attempted to perform a type of DNA testing known as "restriction fragment length polymorphism" (RFLP) on the samples. The RFLP procedure failed to develop a DNA profile on the material from the rectal swab. With respect to the material from the vaginal swab, the only DNA profile the RFLP procedure was able to develop was that of C.S. David Metzger, the scientist from the Springfield lab who performed the RFLP analysis, testified that the RFLP procedure requires a certain quality of DNA in order to develop a profile and that RFLP analysis tends to be more successful in developing a profile from seminal material in those cases where ejaculation has occurred.

At the conclusion of the trial, Rokita was found guilty on all counts. He was sentenced to a total of 80 years' imprisonment. In an order pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 23 (166 Ill. 2d R. 23), this court vacated Rokita's conviction for residential burglary but affirmed the case in all other respects. People v. Rokita, 284 Ill. App. 3d 1153, 708 N.E.2d 1289 (1996). Rokita's petition for leave to appeal to our supreme court was denied. People v. Rokita, 175 Ill. 2d 549, 689 N.E.2d 1145 (1997).

While his petition for leave to appeal was pending, Rokita filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief pursuant to the Post- Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122-2.1 (West 1996)). On April 15, 1997, the circuit court dismissed the petition as frivolous and patently without merit. Rokita's appeal of the dismissal of his post-conviction petition was dismissed by this court for want of prosecution. People v. Rokita, No. 5-97-0285 (June 30, 1998) (unpublished order).

On April 14, 1999, Rokita filed a motion for forensic testing pursuant to section 116-3 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ILCS 5/116-3 (West 1998)). Rokita's motion and supporting memorandum alleged that he has satisfied the requirements for obtaining post-conviction DNA testing set forth in section 116-3: (1) identity was a central issue in his trial, (2) the evidence to be tested had been subject to a chain of custody sufficient to establish that it had not been substituted, tampered with, replaced, or altered in any material respect, (3) the result of DNA testing based on a "polymerase chain reaction" (PCR) had the scientific potential to produce new, non-cumulative evidence materially relevant to Rokita's assertion of actual innocence, and (4) PCR-based DNA testing was generally accepted within the relevant scientific community.

Hearings on Rokita's motion were held on May 5, 1999, and on June 3, 1999, before the Honorable David W. Watt, Jr., the same judge who had presided at his bench trial. At the May 5, 1999, hearing, the State argued that although the State lab was not doing PCR testing at the time of Rokita's trial, such testing was available at private laboratories. Although Rokita's motion and supporting memorandum referred only to PCR- based DNA testing, a review of the transcript of the June 3, 1999, hearing reveals that what Rokita sought was a particular type of PCR testing known as short tandem repeat (STR). During the hearing, the State acknowledged that Rokita had met three of the requirements of section 116-3: misidentification was the basis of Rokita's defense and was the issue at the trial, the evidence to be tested was subject to a ...

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