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People v. State

October 13, 2000


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McMORROW

Agenda 3-March 2000.

Pursuant to the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 1994)), defendant, Reginald Mahaffey, petitioned the circuit court of Cook County for post-conviction relief. The trial court dismissed defendant's amended post-conviction petition without conducting an evidentiary hearing. Defendant also filed a motion to vacate his convictions and sentences pursuant to section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 1996)) alleging that new evidence, outside the record, supported defendant's previous assertions that his confession was a result of torture at the hands of Chicago police officers assigned to Area 2 police headquarters. The circuit court also dismissed this motion without an evidentiary hearing. Because defendant was sentenced to death for the underlying murder convictions, he appeals directly to this court. 134 Ill. 2d R. 651(a). For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.


This court has previously detailed the evidence presented at defendant's trial in our opinion on direct appeal. People v. Mahaffey, 166 Ill. 2d 1 (1995). Therefore, we state here only those facts which are necessary to the disposition of this appeal. On September 2, 1983, defendant and his brother, Jerry Mahaffey, were arrested by Chicago police officers for the August 29, 1983, murders of Dean and Jo Ellen Pueschel and the attempted murder of their 11-year-old son, Richard. On December 29, 1983, defense counsel filed a "motion to suppress statements," claiming that defendant's post-arrest statements and admissions to police were "the direct result of either physical or mental coercion."

Specifically, the motion alleged that at the time of defendant's arrest, several police officers assigned to Area 2, including Sergeant John Byrne and Detective John Yucaitis, induced defendant into making a statement by telling him that "his brother had already flipped on him, and if he didn't give a statement to the police, he would go to the electric chair alone" and lose any chance for leniency. In addition, the motion stated that the arresting officers "did beat the defendant, causing injuries to the defendant's ribs, and this beating was done to induce a statement."

A hearing on defendant's suppression motion was conducted in February 1984. The sole witness called by the State in its case in chief was Irving Miller. Miller testified that, in his then capacity as a felony review supervisor with the Cook County State's Attorney's office, he met with defendant at Area 2 police headquarters on the morning of September 2, 1983. According to Miller, he spoke to defendant in an interview room at approximately 9:30 a.m. and advised defendant of his Miranda rights. After defendant indicated that he understood his rights, defendant gave a statement implicating himself in the crimes which occurred at the Pueschels' apartment. Miller testified that this statement lasted approximately 20 minutes, and that Detective Yucaitis was also present in the room during the time defendant gave this statement. Miller then left the room, returned one-half hour later, and again spoke with defendant for a short time. According to Miller, Detective Yucaitis was present during this conversation as well. Miller testified that he next saw defendant at approximately 11:30 a.m. in a different, larger interview room at Area 2, at which time defendant agreed to give a court-reported statement with respect to his involvement in the crimes at the Pueschel home. Miller stated that he initially spoke alone with defendant for 15 minutes concerning the procedures for making a court- reported statement, and also informed defendant of the questions which Miller would ask defendant during the interview. Miller testified that he also inquired of defendant concerning his treatment by police, and that defendant made no statement to him that he was beaten or threatened. Miller testified that, at the conclusion of this brief meeting, Detective Yucaitis, Assistant State's Attorney George Velich, and a court reporter arrived at the interview room, and defendant gave his confession. Defendant signed this court-reported statement between 3 and 4 p.m. the same day. Miller testified that no one struck defendant in his presence, used mental coercion, or threatened defendant with the electric chair.

Defendant testified on his own behalf. He stated that he was arrested at his apartment at approximately 4:15 a.m. on the morning of September 2, 1983. Defendant stated that when the police arrived, he was lying on the floor of his bedroom. The officers instructed him to get up and he was taken into the kitchen, where he was asked his name. Defendant testified that when he responded, one of the officers kicked him in his groin. Defendant then fell to the floor and was kicked in his ribs and in the side of his head. Defendant stated that he was struck three times by the police in his apartment before he was taken outside. According to defendant, the beating was administered by two plain-clothes officers, one whom defendant described as having curly dark-brown hair, who was heavier in weight than defendant, and who was between 5 feet 11 inches and 6 feet 2 inches in height. Defendant testified that he did not clearly see the second officer because when he was struck by the first officer, he fell face down. However, defendant stated that the second officer was shorter than the officer with curly brown hair, and weighed somewhat over 200 pounds.

Defendant further testified that the officers tried to trip him as he was going up the stairs from his basement apartment to the sidewalk, and that the officers decided among themselves that defendant would be transported to Area 2 by the detective with curly brown hair who had beaten him in the apartment. Defendant testified that he was placed in the back seat of the car, and two detectives sat in the front seats, with the curly brown-haired detective sitting on the passenger side. According to defendant, during the ride to Area 2, this detective turned around and struck him once in the forehead.

Upon his arrival at Area 2 police headquarters, defendant testified, he was placed in a small interview room, where he was handcuffed to a ring in the wall. Defendant stated that, while he was in that room, he was repeatedly hit by the same detective with curly brown hair who had beaten him at his apartment and struck him in the car. According to defendant, when the detective did not like defendant's reply to his questions, he would strike defendant in his mid-section with a flashlight, and hit defendant in his back and across his shoulder blades. Defendant stated that a plastic bag was also placed over his head and that the same detective "started bumping the back of [defendant's] head against the concrete wall." According to defendant, the detective with the curly brown hair was the only officer who actually hit him at Area 2, although there were other officers in the interview room at various times.

Defendant testified that the only reason he made statements to the police was because he was in fear for his safety. Defendant stated that he was told by police that unless he confessed to the murders, he would die. According to defendant, the officers also told him what to say during his confession. Defendant stated that he informed Assistant State's Attorney Miller about the beatings during their first meeting, but that Miller left the room after telling defendant that he was only there to take defendant's statement. According to defendant, after Miller exited, the beatings began once again.

Defendant testified that he stated during his court-reported confession that he was not beaten by police because he wanted to avoid any further abuse. In addition, defendant testified that he was in fear for his safety because the same detective with curly dark-brown hair who had previously beaten him was also present in the room, and that this same detective had previously told defendant that Miller, in his role as a State's Attorney, could not assure defendant's safety. According to defendant, after he gave his court-reported statement, Miller requested that defendant read it, and defendant replied that he was unable to read. Defendant testified that Miller read him portions of the statement and instructed defendant on how to correct misspellings in the text. Thereafter, according to defendant, Miller told defendant to initial and sign the statement. Defendant testified that the beatings ceased once he gave the court-reported statement.

Defendant further testified that after he gave his court-reported statement, a paramedic was called because he began vomiting. Defendant stated that he told the paramedic that he had a headache and pain in his ribs, but admitted that he did not tell the paramedic that he had been kicked in the head or in the ribs.

The next witness to testify on behalf of defendant was Morriell Redmond. He stated that he had rented defendant a room in his basement apartment and that he had opened the door to the police on September 2, 1983. He testified that he did not see the police hitting defendant because he was facing away from the kitchen area, but he heard defendant "hollering" and "screaming." He stated that defendant repeatedly said, "Don't hit me no more." However, Redmond admitted that he never informed anyone about what he overheard.

The State called several witnesses in rebuttal. Detective Charles Grunhard testified that he was one of several officers who went to defendant's apartment on the morning of September 2. Although Grunhard remained in the apartment's living-room area with Morriell Redmond, he testified that he observed Sergeant Byrne and Detective Yucaitis immediately proceed towards the rear bedroom area of the apartment. Grunhard then observed Yucaitis and Byrne bring defendant out of the bedroom and into the apartment's kitchen area. Grunhard testified that he never heard defendant yell or scream while in the apartment.

Detective John Yucaitis testified that he and Sergeant Byrne were the first of many police officers to enter defendant's apartment on the morning of September 2. Yucaitis stated that he and Sergeant Byrne were also the first two officers to enter defendant's bedroom. Defendant was lying on the floor, and a loaded .357 Magnum revolver was on a night stand near where defendant was lying. According to Yucaitis, he gave defendant a quick pat-down search, picked him up, and took defendant into the apartment's kitchen area, where defendant was advised of his Miranda rights. Yucaitis testified that defendant then began to give a statement, implicating himself in the crimes at the Pueschel residence. However, Yucaitis admitted that the report he filed in connection with this case did not reflect that defendant made such a statement at the apartment. Yucaitis testified that he remained with defendant from the time defendant was brought into the kitchen, and denied that he struck or kicked defendant in the apartment.

According to Detective Yucaitis, after exiting the apartment, he placed defendant in the back seat of a police vehicle and was alone in the car with defendant until he picked up his partner, Detective Edmond Leracz, at another location. Thereafter, they all proceeded to Area 2. Yucaitis testified that defendant confessed in the car, but Yucaitis stated that he did not record this confession in his report. Detective Yucaitis denied striking defendant while he was in the vehicle.

Detective Yucaitis further testified that when they arrived at Area 2, he took defendant into interview room No. 1, and shackled defendant's left wrist to the wall. Yucaitis testified that when he was alone with defendant in this room, defendant again confessed to the crimes. Yucaitis stated that Assistant State's Attorney Miller then arrived. Yucaitis denied that he struck, kicked or hit defendant at any time while defendant was at Area 2. Yucaitis also denied placing a plastic bag over defendant's head, or instructing defendant what to say in his confession. Yucaitis testified that he was defendant's "baby-sitter" from the time defendant arrived at Area 2 until defendant gave his court-reported statement. Yucaitis stated that "[t]he majority of the time I was with him. If I wasn't with him, he was alone." Detective Edmond Leracz also testified on behalf of the State. Leracz initially observed defendant in the back seat of a police vehicle when Leracz's partner, Detective Yucaitis, picked him up from a location on Chicago's west side. Leracz testified that at that time, defendant's hands were cuffed behind him, and that Leracz changed the handcuffs to the front. Leracz then sat in the vehicle's passenger seat, and stated that at no time did he strike defendant. Leracz testified that he had no knowledge of whether defendant was struck prior to the time he entered the vehicle. Leracz also testified that, during the ride to Area 2, defendant confessed to the Pueschel murders, although Leracz admitted that he did not record this confession in any of his reports.

The State recalled Irving Miller, who testified that a Polaroid photograph was taken of defendant on September 2, 1983 at approximately 6:35 to 6:40 p.m. by a Chicago police department evidence technician. Miller described the photograph as showing defendant seated behind a table, fully dressed, and that no injury to defendant was apparent. Also testifying with respect to defendant's lack of injuries was Robert Muralles, an emergency medical technician at Cook County jail. A medical history and physical examination sheet prepared by Muralles on September 3, 1982, indicated that defendant exhibited no bruises, cuts, swelling or abrasions.

The State next called Sergeant John Byrne, and Detectives William Kurschner, Raymond Benkowski, and Charles Grunhard, who all testified that defendant was not physically abused ...

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