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People v. Jamison

April 19, 2001


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McMORROW

Docket No. 80967 Agenda 1-November 2000.

Defendant, Ernest D. Jamison, was convicted on a plea of guilty to first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 1994)) and armed robbery (720 ILCS 5/18-2 (West 1994)) in connection with the June 19, 1995, shooting death of Susan K. Gilmore. He was found eligible for the death penalty and sentenced to death. Defendant's death sentence was stayed pending his appeal, which came directly to this court. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §4(b); 134 Ill. 2d Rs. 603, 609. On direct appeal, this court determined that defendant had not been properly admonished in accord with Supreme Court Rule 605(b). While retaining jurisdiction over the appeal, we remanded the matter to the circuit court of McLean County so that defendant, after being properly admonished, would have the opportunity to file a motion to withdraw his plea of guilty, as provided in Supreme Court Rule 604(d). See People v. Jamison, 181 Ill. 2d 24 (1998).

On remand, defendant filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, which the circuit court denied. The matter now is returned to this court for further review. For the reasons that follow, we affirm defendant's convictions and sentence.


The record shows that, in the early morning hours of June 19, 1995, defendant shot and killed a man in Memphis, Tennessee. Using this man's automobile, defendant fled the state and headed toward Minnesota. While driving through Missouri, defendant shot and killed a gas station attendant.

The stolen vehicle defendant was driving broke down in Illinois. Defendant abandoned that vehicle near a Quick Pic store in McLean, Illinois. He then approached the gas pumps at the front of that store, where Susan Gilmore had just filled her car with gasoline. Defendant walked to within three feet of Gilmore, pulled out a gun, shot Gilmore in the head, and pulled her body out of the car. Defendant then drove away in Gilmore's car. Soon after, a McLean County sheriff spotted defendant and pursued him in a high-speed car chase. Defendant's vehicle swerved into a ditch. When the sheriff approached defendant's car, defendant apparently attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head.

On July 13, 1995, defendant was indicted in the State of Illinois on three counts of first degree murder in relation to the shooting of Susan Gilmore and one count of aggravated vehicular hijacking. The indictments charged that, on June 19, 1995, defendant knowingly and without lawful justification caused the death of Susan Gilmore by shooting her in the head with a handgun and that he "took a motor vehicle, a Honda automobile, from the presence of Susan Gilmore by the use of force when he was armed with a dangerous weapon, a handgun." On July 21, 1995, defendant was arraigned and entered a plea of not guilty.

On July 25, 1995, while being held in the McLean County detention facility, defendant was seen for the first time by Dr. Bhaskar Damera, a psychiatrist. Dr. Damera determined that defendant was experiencing feelings of boredom and loneliness because he had been rendered blind by a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a failed apparent suicide attempt. Dr. Damera diagnosed defendant as having "Major depression, single episode" and prescribed Sinequan, *fn1 a psychotropic medication.

In August 1995, defendant advised his attorney he wished to change his plea to guilty. A hearing was scheduled for September 1, 1995. At the September 1, 1995, hearing, the State notified the court that, by information, it was adding a charge of armed robbery to the pending charges against defendant. In this new fifth count (count V), it was alleged that defendant "knowingly took the contents of a motor vehicle, said contents belonging to Susan K. Gilmore, and including clothing and personal effects and plants and tapes, from the immediate presence of Susan Gilmore by the use of force when he was armed with a dangerous weapon, a handgun."

The court advised defendant that, before proceeding further, he was entitled to have a grand jury return an indictment on count V or he could have a preliminary hearing to determine probable cause for the filing of count V. Defendant waived these rights and, on the same day the information was filed, entered a plea of guilty to count I, intentional murder, and to count V, the newly filed armed robbery count.

Before the court accepted defendant's plea, defense counsel advised the court that defendant was taking "an anti-depressant, Sinequan," which was prescribed for him by Dr. Damera. Counsel further informed the court that she had spoken with Dr. Damera "with regard to the effects of Sinequan as far as Mr. Jamison's judgment, his ability to understand and communicate with regard to his case, and any other effects that the medication might have on him, and was informed that in fact [defendant] should react in a normal fashion. That the only obvious effect would be to deal with his depression, to some extent help him sleep." Defense counsel then added, "And I believe from communicating with my client on a regular basis, that in fact there is no negative influence insofar as his judgment is concerned and that he is alert."

The trial court then admonished defendant in accord with Supreme Court Rule 402, found that defendant's plea was knowingly and voluntarily made, and accepted defendant's plea of guilty to first degree murder and armed robbery after hearing the State's factual basis. The State advised the court that it intended to seek the death penalty and defense counsel acknowledged awareness of the State's intention.

Defendant waived his right to a jury and, on December 4, 1995, a bench trial was held to determine defendant's eligibility for the death penalty. Three witnesses testified at this first-stage hearing. The clerk at the Quick Pic store testified to the events leading up to the shooting of Susan Gilmore on June 19, 1995, and defendant's departure in Gilmore's car. A McLean County sheriff testified to the events leading up to defendant's capture, and to defendant's oral confession to the shooting. The sheriff also testified that audio tapes, plants, and other items were found inside the car defendant was driving when he was arrested. Finally, Gilmore's son testified that on June 19, 1995, he had been living with his mother in Rockford. At about 8 a.m. that day, he saw his mother loading up her car, a blue Honda Accord, with plants and other items, in anticipation of a planned visit to his aunt's home in Kansas City. That was the last time he saw her alive.

After hearing the evidence, the trial court found defendant eligible for the death penalty pursuant to section 9-1(b)(6)(c) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(6)(c) (West 1994)). After determining defendant's eligibility for the death penalty, the court proceeded to the second stage of the death penalty hearing and began to receive evidence in aggravation and mitigation. Additional evidence was presented on December 5 and 7, 1995, and on February 9, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 21, 1996.

On the morning of February 15, 1996, defense counsel informed the court that she would be asking her next witness, Dr. Arthur R. Traugott, "some basic questions with regard to fitness." She explained that at the time of the plea hearing, on September 1, 1995, no one was aware that defendant had been taking medication which was classified as psychotropic. Upon learning the psychotropic nature of the medication, she contacted Dr. Damera, defendant's treating psychiatrist, and Dr. Traugott, a psychiatrist she had engaged as a mitigation witness. Dr. Traugott, whom she planned to call as her next witness, was prepared to testify on the subject of defendant's fitness while taking medication.

It was noted by the trial court that, based on the statutory provision in effect at the time defendant entered his plea, defendant's use of psychotropic medication entitled him to a fitness hearing. That statute, however, had been recently amended, requiring a fitness hearing only if a bona fide doubt of defendant's fitness existed. Due to the change in the law, there was a consensus among the court, the State, and defense counsel that evidence regarding defendant's fitness should be placed on the record. Defense counsel then stated:

"And while I don't believe at any point in these proceedings, including the time of the defendant's arrest, that there was any bona fide doubt with regard to his fitness, and certainly there hasn't been as far as I'm concerned with my communications with him throughout the proceeding, I feel more comfortable having some testimony with regard to that."

Dr. Traugott then testified that he performed a psychiatric evaluation of defendant on November 15, 1995. At that time, defendant was taking the drug, Sinequan, as prescribed by Dr. Damera. Dr. Traugott testified that he saw no evidence that the medication affected defendant's ability to understand the charges or cooperate with his defense. Rather, Dr. Traugott was impressed by the clarity with which defendant was able to recall and articulate events, including the events of the plea hearing on September 1, 1995.

Dr. Traugott further testified that he had reviewed numerous documents, including the psychiatric reports prepared by Dr. Damera both before and after the plea hearing. Based on all the information available to him, in addition to his own expert knowledge of, and experience with, the drug Sinequan, Dr. Traugott believed the medication had no negative effect on defendant's intellectual functioning. In fact, Dr. Traugott testified, "I think, if anything, that the Sinequan may have enhanced [defendant's] ability to cooperate and assist in those proceedings." Dr. Traugott explained that Sinequan ameliorates the symptoms of depression, such as sleep and appetite disturbance, and helps the person become more focused and better able to concentrate. For all these reasons, Dr. Traugott concluded that defendant was fit for sentencing and had been fit at the time he entered his plea.

In addition to rendering his opinion on defendant's fitness, Dr. Traugott informed the court that his primary diagnosis was that defendant suffered from antisocial personality disorder, affective aggressor type. Dr. Traugott explained that affective aggressors tend to react impulsively when they feel threatened or under stress.

Dr. Alvin House, a clinical psychologist, also testified in mitigation. He testified that he met with defendant on November 1 and 8, 1995, and January 5, 1996, and on those occasions, performed a series of tests to assess defendant's intellect and mental functioning. Due to defendant's blindness, only the verbal portion of the Wechsler Intelligence Test could be administered. Based on this limited test, defendant's IQ was determined to be 80, which is below average. However, Dr. House also administered the Wechsler Memory test, which measures short-term and long-term memory and memory function. This test produced an index number of 102, which is within the average range. Dr. House testified:

"In terms of cognitive abilities, on each of the occasions I met with [defendant], [he] performed elements of a mental status assessment looking at his tempo orientation, his attention, different less comprehensive types of short-term recall task[s] like the Wechsler's. Each time [defendant] showed a clear mental status. He was consistently oriented within the normal range. He showed some lapses of attention, but in general was able to focus on me and my questions for the periods I met with him, and appeared to be alert and competent."

Dr. House was aware that defendant was taking Sinequan for depression. Dr. House was familiar with the drug and testified that Sinequan can affect short-time reading and recall, but does not typically affect the type of performances measured on an intelligence test. He noted, too, that depression can also interfere with mental performance. In Dr. House's opinion, because defendant scored within the normal range on the Wechsler Memory tests, "what was likely going on was that the benefits that [defendant] was deriving from the medication were outweighing any effects it was having on his cognitive functioning."

Dr. House noted that on his January 8, 1996, visit, defendant reported feeling better and he acknowledged that the medication seemed to be helping him. Still, defendant became sad when he spoke about the future and maintained he would rather die than go to prison because he was afraid of being victimized in prison, due to his blindness.

Based on his examination and testing of defendant, Dr. House reached a determination regarding defendant's mental health using the DSM-IV classification system. He, like Dr. Traugott, diagnosed defendant as having antisocial personality disorder, impulsive type.

Other mitigation witnesses testified. Melinda Meyer Felner, an officer at the McLean County detention facility, testified that defendant was placed in a holding cell directly across from the control room. Initially, defendant was placed there because he was considered a suicide risk, but he remained there due to his blindness. Felner testified that defendant had adjusted well to his situation. He was provided with audio and music tapes, as well as books on tape, to help him alleviate his boredom. Felner also noted that defendant had begun writing rap songs.

Casey Kruse Goldberg, a social worker at the detention facility, testified that she visited with defendant 16 times, beginning on July 25, 1995. Recognizing that defendant seemed depressed, she referred defendant to Dr. Damera, the facility's psychiatrist. After Dr. Damera placed defendant on medication, defendant's depression seemed to decrease. Goldberg testified that defendant enjoyed "witnessing" his faith to other cellmates and wrote rap songs as a hobby, to help "him think out what was in his head."

Dr. Damera, defendant's treating psychiatrist who had prescribed Sinequan for defendant's depression, testified on February 16, 1996. When asked about defendant's fitness while taking this medication, Dr. Damera explained that the drug is "supposed to uplift your spirits, and it has other affects [sic] such as calming down, anti-anxiety, and also helps you to sleep." Dr. Damera said the drug typically increases a person's self-esteem and brings about greater clarity of thought.

According to Dr. Damera, the dosage defendant received was relatively small-25 milligrams twice during the day and 50 milligrams at night, to aid sleep. On September 19, 1995, the dosage was increased to 100 milligrams at ...

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