Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 97-CF-431 Honorable Jan V. Fiss, Judge, presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Goldenhersh
Rinando Tucker (defendant) was charged with two counts of first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 1996)) in connection with the shooting deaths of Martin (Marty) and Judith (Judy) Dotson. After a jury trial, defendant was found guilty on both counts. Defendant was sentenced to natural life in prison. On appeal, defendant argues: (1) he was denied the effective assistance of counsel because his trial attorney (a) failed to object to the State's presentation of two firearms that were not related to the instant case and (b) failed to present favorable character evidence because he believed that the State could rebut that evidence with an investigation pending against defendant in an unrelated matter; and (2) he was denied a fair trial due to improper actions by the prosecutor, including (a) presenting two guns to the jury that were completely unrelated to the case at bar, (b) presenting evidence of papers bearing Marty Dotson's name that were unaccountably found in a third party's trash can, and (c) arguing that defendant's guilt was established by comparing defendant's actions to those of the third party who found the irrelevant papers in the trash. We affirm.
The victims, Marty and Judy Dotson, husband and wife, lived in Centreville and were murdered in their home late in the evening on April 17, 1997, or early in the morning on April 18, 1997. Defendant, age 20 at the time of the murders, did not deny his presence at the scene, but he denied killing the victims. Defendant asserted that Brandon "Buck" Craighead, age 16, was the shooter. Defendant was tried under an accountability theory. Craighead was tried separately.
The evidence showed that on April 18, 1997, Centreville Police Sergeant William Miller was working the midnight shift. During his shift, he observed a Chevy Corsica being driven in a strange manner and attempted to investigate; however, the driver of the Corsica would not stop. A chase ensued. Ultimately, the Corsica came to a stop and its occupants fled on foot. Sergeant Miller found a cellular phone near the car. He ran the plates on the car and found that the car was registered to Marty Dotson. Sergeant Miller did not attempt to contact Mr. Dotson at that time.
At 9 a.m. on April 18, 1997, Centreville Police Officer Gregory Hosp was dispatched to the victims' home to check on their well being. When Officer Hosp arrived, he found the front door partially open. Upon entering the home, he discovered Marty Dotson's body slumped on a bar stool and Judy Dotson dead on her bed. Each victim died from a single, close contact gunshot to the head. Crime-scene technicians were then called to the scene. The Major Case Squad, which consists of police officers from various departments called in to work a case for five days following the commission of a major crime, was also utilized. Patricia Jackson, a crime scene investigator for the Illinois State Police, arrived at approximately 10:43 a.m. She found no evidence of forced entry. Both bedrooms were ransacked. She collected People's Exhibit 5c, latent fingerprints from the inside of the front door and from a metal box found on a bedroom floor. The print from the metal box was transferred and labeled as People's Exhibit 5b. A fingerprint expert identified the latent print as a fingerprint of defendant's left middle finger. Judy Dotson's daughter, Karin Morales, testified that she had seen the two metal boxes at the victims' home, but she did not know what was stored in those boxes. She also testified that the victims kept several pieces of jewelry in their bedroom. The jewelry was missing after the victims were killed.
Other evidence collected at the scene included, inter alia, a shell casing discovered in the living room, People's Exhibit 18, and a shell casing discovered in the bedroom, People's Exhibit 17. Spent projectiles were later retrieved from the bodies of the victims and introduced at the trial as People's Exhibits 12 and 13. Police videotaped the crime scene. The videotape was shown to the jury.
Detective Coppetelli of the Collinsville Police Department testified that on April 19, 1997, as part of his duties with the Major Case Squad, he discovered a Howard University jacket in a backyard strewn with trash. During the investigation, Detective Coppetelli also recovered a firearm from Judy Dotson's son, Tim Foster. Detective Coppetelli interviewed Foster, who indicated that he had a firearm at his residence. Foster turned the firearm over to the police. The gun was analyzed and identified by police as a .32-caliber, but it was not connected to the crime in question. The gun was marked as People's Exhibit 7 and shown to the jury. Likewise, People's Exhibit 8, a super-automatic, .38-caliber Colt pistol, which was not connected to the crime, was shown to the jury. However, after defense counsel objected, the State withdrew its motion to have the guns admitted into evidence. Collinsville Police Officer Todd Link testified that he retrieved the .38-caliber gun from Michael Gillespie on April 20, 1997. The State failed to tie up Gillespie's connection with the investigation.
Thomas Gamboe, Jr., a forensics, firearm, and toolmark expert, examined People's Exhibits 7 and 8, along with People's Exhibits 12 and 13, which were, in his opinion, bullets from a .38-caliber or 9-millimeter weapon, and People's Exhibits 17 and 18, the discharged cartridge cases. Gamboe opined that Exhibits 12 and 13 were fired from the same weapon, as were Exhibits 17 and 18. Gamboe further opined that Exhibits 12 and 13, the spent projectiles, could not have been fired from either People's Exhibit 7 or 8.
John Vickers, who lived on 36th Street in East St. Louis, testified that on April 18, 1997, at approximately 3 a.m., he got up to use the bathroom and noticed that someone had piled trash near his trash cans, which he had set out the night before to be picked up the following morning. Mr. Vickers returned to bed, but he stopped his car on the way to work to try to stuff the extra trash into his trash can. Some of the items would not fit, so Mr. Vickers set them in his house to be sorted through later. When he arrived home from work in the evening, he attempted to stuff the extra trash into a trash bag. He then watched the evening news and learned of the victims' murders. He realized that he had seen Mr. Dotson's name on one of the papers in the trash left by his trash cans. Mr. Vickers called his attorney to find out what to do. His attorney advised him to keep what he had and to bring it to the attorney's office, where he met with police and handed over the trash. Items included an ashtray, a car caddy, a glove, and papers. These items were introduced into evidence as People's Exhibit 33.
Shondreka Hinkle, age 17, testified that near the date of the murders, defendant and Craighead were at her house while she was baby-sitting her four-year-old nephew. Craighead had a gun and insisted on showing it to her. At one point, Craighead handed the gun to the four-year-old. Hinkle got angry and struck the gun out of her nephew's hand. On that same evening, Craighead told her that he needed some money and was going to kill a woman in Parkside. According to Hinkle, defendant told Craighead to be quiet because Hinkle might tell someone.
Angeletta Jacobs is Craighead's cousin, and she has been acquainted with defendant for several years. She also knew the victims. She recalled that on the evening when the victims were killed, she was with Craighead and defendant at her mother's house. They arrived about 9 p.m., and she cooked them some food. Craighead had a gun, which he showed to defendant. Jacobs testified that Craighead told defendant it was a 9-millimeter. Craighead and defendant left a little before 10 p.m. Jacobs received a phone call from defendant at about midnight. A few minutes after her conversation with defendant, Craighead called her. Jacobs recalled that both conversations were normal conversations and that nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
A records officer for Ameritech testified about the billing records from the victims' cellular phone. Two telephone calls were billed to the phone on April 17, 1997. The first was an incoming call at 2:34 p.m.; the second was an outgoing call at 11:29 p.m. Six outgoing calls were billed to the telephone in question on April 18, 1997, at the following times: 12:21 a.m., 12:43 a.m., 1:21 a.m., 1:27 a.m., 4:11 a.m., and 4:28 a.m.
Defendant left the area after the murders and went to stay with relatives in Beloit, Wisconsin, where he was arrested. Sergeant Kurt Reynolds of the Beloit Police Department testified that after he received a telephone call informing him that there was a warrant for defendant's arrest, he called Joyce Tucker in Beloit and she confirmed that defendant was staying with her. When officers arrived at the Tucker residence, defendant surrendered without incident. After searching the house in Beloit where defendant was staying, police found, hidden beneath carpet in a bedroom, photocopies of newspaper articles concerning the victims' murders.
On May 7, 1997, defendant was interrogated in Beloit by police officers, including Sergeant Steve Brown of the Centreville Police Department. Defendant gave a nine-page written statement to police, as well as a videotaped statement. Both the written statement and the videotape were introduced into evidence. The videotape was played to the jury.
Outside the presence of the jury, the State moved for the admission of any exhibits not previously introduced into evidence. Defense counsel objected to the admission of the weapons, citing People v. Wade, 51 Ill. App. 3d 721, 366 N.E.2d 528 (1977), on the basis that it is reversible error to admit weapons that are in no way connected to the crime. The prosecutor argued that the guns were admissible to show that a thorough investigation had been conducted by the police. The trial court reserved its ruling. Ultimately, the State withdrew its motion to admit the guns; however, the prosecutor qualified the withdrawal by asserting that if defense counsel attempted to argue that a complete investigation had not been conducted, the State should be able to rebut that argument by showing that the police had conducted a thorough investigation, including the retrieval of two guns.
Defense counsel also stated that as part of his trial strategy he was not going to introduce favorable character evidence on defendant's behalf. Defense counsel explained that if he introduced character evidence, the State could rebut such evidence with details of a pending burglary investigation of defendant. Defendant took the stand in his own defense.
Defendant testified that prior to the night in question, he socialized with Brandon Craighead on only two or three occasions. He was with Craighead on the night of the murders because Craighead wanted defendant to meet his cousin from Kansas City, who was visiting and who was thinking about giving defendant a job. Defendant could not remember Craighead telling Ms. Hinkle that he was going to kill someone. He did, however, remember the incident ...