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People v. Urioste

September 21, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 86-CF-605 Honorable J. Lawrence Keshner, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kuehn

The miracle and wonder of DNA forensic technology has assumed an ever-increasing role in our quest for truth and justice. At times, DNA can possess the power to decisively negate other evidence that suggests guilt and virtually establish a person's innocence.

Because this technology is of relatively recent origin, it was not available for use at a time when many current Illinois inmates, convicted on less infallible evidence, might have employed it to confirm a claim of innocence. In some of those cases, evidence that contains genetic material capable of testing for DNA is still intact. Depending upon the nature of the State's proof in those cases, belated DNA testing may still have value. It may still be capable of discovering a genetic truth that belies previously established guilt. It may answer some inmate's persistent plea for justice.

In recognition of the fact that new forensic testing could potentially provide the key to a cell that houses an innocent person, our legislature enacted a provision that permits post-conviction DNA testing in certain cases. See 725 ILCS 5/116-3 (West 1998). Today, we examine the scope of that provision to determine whether Mark Urioste (Urioste) is entitled to conduct DNA tests on typed blood samples admitted into evidence during his 1987 trial.

Following a 1987 bench trial, Urioste was found guilty but mentally ill in the stabbing death of Rebecca Rodgers. Since then, he has been serving a 40-year prison term for murder, together with multiple concurrent prison terms for his convictions on related charges of home invasion, armed violence, and attempted criminal sexual assault. We reviewed the 1987 proceedings and affirmed his convictions in 1990. People v. Urioste, 203 Ill. App. 3d 1062, 561 N.E.2d 471 (1990). The facts of the case are set forth in detail in that opinion. See Urioste, 203 Ill. App. 3d at 1065-70, 561 N.E.2d at 473-76. We revisit only the facts necessary to an understanding of the questions presented here.

Urioste sustained a closed head injury in 1981. He suffered brain damage as a result of it. Over the course of a lengthy recovery, he was able to recapture intellectual function, but he exhibited a lingering decrease in control over impulses, particularly sexual ones. He also exhibited a decrease in control over aggressive behaviors. During his treatment at a rehabilitation center, he gained access through the window of another patient's room and raped her.

Rebecca Rodgers died from multiple stab wounds. She was Urioste's 20-year-old next-door neighbor. She lived next door with her mother, Joyce Rodgers, her 16-year-old sister, Renee, and her two-year-old son. In the early morning hours of August 8, 1986, Joyce Rodgers was awakened by sounds from the second floor of her two-story residence. When she went upstairs to investigate, she saw Urioste on top of Rebecca, attempting to engage in sexual intercourse with her. Having known Urioste for his entire life, she ordered him to get off of her daughter. He complied. She could see that his arms and hands were covered with blood and that he was holding a knife. Urioste approached her. As the two of them stood face to face, he addressed her as "mom," an expression he had for years used in addressing her. He ordered her to let him out of the front door.

Renee Rodgers saw Urioste stumble down the stairs and run out the front door after the stabbing. A few days before the murder, Renee had seen Urioste attempting to break into her bedroom window. She summoned another neighbor, who confronted Urioste and asked him to explain his conduct. Urioste responded that he had to use the restroom. Among the several statements that Urioste made to authorities was a statement that it was Renee, not Rebecca, who he planned to engage in sex with.

An examination of the murder scene revealed that entry into the house was obtained through the bathroom window. The window screen was removed. Urioste's palm print was found on the bathtub, in close proximity to the point of entry. The entry into the house mirrored how Urioste had accessed the patient's room at the rehabilitation center.

When Joyce Rodgers reported the crime and who had committed it, authorities went to the Urioste residence. They were admitted into the house by Urioste's father, who took them to Urioste's room. They found Urioste in bed. He had fresh blood on his hands, neck, and clothing. A knife, bearing fresh blood, was found on the ground along a direct track from the murder scene to Urioste's home. At the time of the murder investigation in 1986, blood found on Urioste's underwear and on the knife was tested for blood type. The blood was not Urioste's type O blood. It matched Rebecca Rodgers' type A blood.

In addition to the eyewitness testimony from people who had known Urioste for a long time, testimony that was corroborated by the fingerprint and blood matches, Urioste made incriminating statements to the police and to the judge who arraigned him.

At the trial, Urioste entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. He countered the State's case with psychiatric testimony about his mental state at the time of the stabbing. After hearing conflicting expert testimony on the question of insanity, the trial judge found that Urioste was mentally ill rather than insane when he committed the acts charged. Thereafter, he imposed lengthy concurrent prison terms upon the findings of guilty but mentally ill.

This appeal stems from proceedings that originated in August of 1999. Urioste invoked section 116-3 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) (725 ILCS 5/116-3 (West 1998)) and petitioned the circuit court for an order to further test the blood evidence. His petition asserted actual innocence, as required by statute. It sought to determine whether the blood found on Urioste's clothing and on the knife bore the genetic profile of Rebecca Rodgers. The State responded to the petition with a request that it be dismissed. The trial judge granted that request. He ruled that since identity was not at issue during Urioste's trial, Urioste lacked a statutory prerequisite for further forensic testing of the blood evidence. This appeal ensued.

Our review of the ruling is de novo. People v. Savory, 903 Ill. App. 3d 408, 412, 722 N.E.2d 220, 223 (1999), appeal allowed, 188 Ill. 2d 578, 729 N.E.2d 502 (2000).

When our legislators enacted section 116-3, they intended to provide an avenue for convicted defendants who maintained their innocence to test available genetic material capable of producing new and dramatic evidence materially relevant to the question of innocence. The legislature recognized that advances in scientific technology harbored the potential to correct injustice through the highly reliable use of genetics. However, the legislature did not access post-conviction forensic testing to everyone. It limited the scope of the post-conviction remedy in several ways. Three limitations imposed upon the statute's use frame the questions raised in this appeal.

In order to successfully open the door for further forensic testing of evidence, a convicted defendant must present a prime facie case that:

"(1) identity was the issue in the trial which resulted in his or her conviction; 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 ...

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