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People v. Vida

June 22, 2001

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
DAVID VIDA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gallagher

Not Released For Publication

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
DAVID VIDA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gallagher

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County

Honorable Frank De Boni, Judge Presiding.

 Following a jury trial, defendant David Vida was convicted of first degree murder. Finding that defendant's actions were exceptionally brutal and heinous and indicative of wanton cruelty, the trial court sentenced him to 100 years in prison. On appeal, defendant contends that the police lacked probable cause to arrest him. Defendant also asserts that his trial counsel was ineffective because counsel advised him not to testify at trial and failed to present significant evidence to support his case. In addition, defendant contends that the court erred in allowing the jury to view statements by defendant's mother during its deliberations. Defendant also claims that his 100-year prison sentence was excessive, an abuse of the trial court's discretion, and in violation of the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 490, 147 L. Ed. 2d 435, 455, 120 S. Ct. 2348, 2362-63 (2000), which held that any fact that increases the sentence for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum for that offense must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. For the foregoing reasons, we affirm defendant's convictions and sentence.

At a hearing on defendant's motion to quash his arrest and suppress evidence, Larry Lindenman of the Illinois State Police investigations unit was the sole witness. Lindenman testified that on March 2, 1997, he investigated the discovery of a dismembered male body at a campsite in the Des Plaines conservation area in Will County. Clad in a bloodstained shirt and jeans, the body had been cut in half at the waist and placed in plastic garbage bags. The body was later identified as Scott Harast.

Several days before the body was discovered, Harast's parents reported him missing. Patricia Harast last saw her son alive on February 24 when he and defendant discussed working together to rehab a house. Harast told Lindenman she was surprised at their plans because defendant and her son had a bad relationship.

At about 8 p.m. on February 24, a cashier at Leo's Liquors in Brookfield waited on Harast and defendant. Another cashier at that store told Lindenman that on February 20, she heard defendant call Harast a "faggot" and say that he knew people who could kill him. Regarding Harast's disappearance, defendant said he and Harast had gone to a liquor store and he had proceeded to the jobsite while Harast stopped at a local grocery store. However, the owner of the grocery store told Lindenman that Harast did not enter the store that night. Defendant said he and Harast were to meet at the house but Harast never arrived.

Lindenman testified that on March 4, police obtained a search warrant for 3517 South Park Avenue in Brookfield. In the house, crime scene investigators discovered blood splatters and markings consistent with a body being chopped on the basement floor. The indentation of a chop mark on the floor contained jean material, human tissue and blood. Tissue and blood were found on a nail protruding from a hole in the first floor leading to the basement. Police recovered a bloody ax and tree saw that Lindenman testified were capable of dismembering a human body. A bloody sledge hammer and a broken chair also were found.

Defendant told Brookfield police that he and Harast were good friends and planned to rehab the Park Avenue house. The house's owner told police that he had hired defendant to perform such work.

Lindenman testified that 3517 South Park Avenue was four or five blocks away from defendant's residence. On March 7, Lindenman and Steve Kline, an Illinois State Police detective, went to defendant's home and told defendant they wanted to speak to him at state police headquarters in Lockport. Defendant agreed to cooperate, and Lindenman told defendant that he could drive separately if he wished. Defendant said he would go with the officers because his driver's license was suspended. The officers did not handcuff defendant. On cross-examination, Lindenman testified that he did not tell defendant that he did not have to go with them to police headquarters. The trial court denied defendant's motion to quash his arrest and suppress evidence, finding that sufficient probable cause existed for defendant's arrest. Defendant also made a motion to suppress his statements to police, which the trial court also denied.

At trial, Patricia Harast testified that at the time of his death, her son rented a room at 3424 Grand Boulevard in Brookfield from Julie Killian, who was defendant's sister, and Killian's husband. She testified that her son was gay. On February 24, he told her he and defendant were going to a vacant house in Brookfield to do rehab work and that defendant was going to pay him to vacuum. *fn1 On cross-examination, she stated that her son was bisexual and that he and Julie Killian were friends and had planned a trip together. She said her son had a drinking problem and was unemployed and Killian was an alcoholic and a drug addict.

Kurt Vavra, manager of Leo's Liquors, testified that on February 20, defendant was in the store and that he called Harast a "faggot" and said he wanted to kill him. Donna Taylor, a cashier at the store, testified that she heard defendant say that day that if Killian died, "they would find that faggot dead somewhere." *fn2

The house's owner testified that on February 22, he asked defendant to obtain a duplicate house key so defendant could enter the house during the week to work in his absence. On February 28, he found a note on the house's door from defendant apologizing for a broken chair and saying that he would explain later. Between February 28 and March 2, he entered the house and found that electrical wiring had been pulled out and also noticed a strong odor of cleaning solutions. Defendant later told the owner that he had accidentally pulled out the wire with his foot and had tripped over the chair and broken it.

Dr. Larry Blum testified that based on the results of an autopsy, Harast died of skull and brain injuries due to multiple blunt force trauma. Harast's injuries included two facial fractures, bleeding inside the skull, lungs and trachea, multiple head and body lacerations and fractured ribs, with a total of 20 different injured areas. Blum testified that the condition of the bones near the dismembered area was consistent with being severed by a saw or a blunt object such as an ax. Julie Glasner, a state police forensic scientist, testified as an expert in DNA analysis and stated that bloodstains on the broken chair and on a mop handle at the scene were consistent with defendant's DNA.

Lindenman testified that after defendant was brought to police headquarters, defendant initially denied killing Harast but later said that he and Harast had argued about Harast's relationship with Killian. Defendant said Harast swung an ax at him, and defendant punched Harast in the face, causing Harast to fall backward and through a hole in the floor. After discovering that Harast was not breathing, defendant left. Defendant denied dismembering Harast's body and leaving it at the campsite. After offering several other versions of Harast's death, defendant admitted dismembering and disposing of the body and cleaning the basement. Defendant said he put the body in a van and asked his mother to go with him to drop the body off because that would look less suspicious than if defendant were seen driving alone.

Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Colin Simpson testified that at about 1 a.m. on March 8, defendant gave a court-reported statement admitting that he killed Harast. Defendant said he told his mother about the killing and they disposed of the body three days later.

The defense presented one witness. Cheryl Vida, defendant's mother, testified that between February 23 and February 27, she was at LaGrange Memorial Hospital recovering from a heart attack. Vida testified that she did not accompany defendant to dispose of a body. She gave a statement to Brookfield police at about 5:30 a.m. on March 8; however, she was upset because Killian, her daughter, had just died and did not know what the police said to her. On cross-examination, Vida denied telling Lindenman that defendant told her that he killed Harast and denied going with defendant to dispose of Harast's body. However, she admitted signing a statement in Lindenman's presence on March 8.

In rebuttal, Lindenman testified that he took Vida's statement on March 8. Vida said that on February 24, defendant told her that he killed Harast and on February 27, she accompanied defendant to the campsite where they left Harast's body. Lindenman said Vida signed the statement.

On appeal, defendant first contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to quash his arrest and suppress evidence. He argues that Lindenman and Kline arrested him without probable cause when they arrived at his house on March 7 and transported him to state police headquarters. Defendant points out that Lindenman did not tell him that he did not have to go with them.

To have probable cause to justify a warrantless arrest, a police officer must be aware of facts and circumstances at the time of the arrest that are sufficient to allow a person of reasonable caution to believe that an offense had been committed and that the person being arrested committed the offense. People v. Sims, 192 Ill. 2d 592, 614-15, 736 N.E.2d 1048, 1060 (2000). The existence of probable cause is determined by the totality of the circumstances at the time of the arrest. Sims, 192 Ill. 2d at 615, 736 N.E.2d at 1060. When reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to quash an arrest and suppress evidence where no factual or credibility disputes exist, our standard of review is de novo. People v. Buss, 187 Ill. 2d 144, 204-05, 718 N.E.2d 1, 35 (1999).

Among the factors relevant to establishing probable cause are the proximity of the defendant's residence to the crime scene and whether the defendant was among the last to see the victim alive. Buss, 187 Ill. 2d at 206, 718 N.E.2d at 36. Defendant likens the circumstances surrounding his arrest to those in People v. McGhee, 154 Ill. App. 3d 232, 507 N.E.2d 33 (1987), which we find distinguishable from the case at bar. In McGhee, police took a juvenile suspect into custody after learning that the suspect was in the company of the victim on the night before the victim was found dead. McGhee, 154 Ill. App. 3d at 234, 507 N.E.2d at 34. This court found that information insufficient to support the suspect's arrest. McGhee, 154 Ill. App. 3d at 237, 507 N.E.2d at 36, quoting Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 479, 9 L. Ed. 2d 441, 450, 83 S. Ct. 407, 413 (1963) ("'[i]t is basic that an arrest with or without a warrant must stand upon firmer ground than mere suspicion [citation], though the arresting officer need not have in hand evidence which would suffice to convict'").

Here, the circumstances that were known to police when they arrested defendant went beyond the fact that defendant was the last person seen with Harast before his death. Lindenman testified that he had learned that Harast was last seen alive with defendant, that the two men had a bad relationship, and that defendant had threatened to kill Harast and used a derogatory term to describe him. In addition, defendant lived four or five blocks away from the Park Avenue house, in which investigators found evidence consistent with Harast's injuries. Defendant also told police he was working on rehabbing the house, which the owner confirmed. Based upon the totality of the circumstances known to police, we find that sufficient probable cause existed to arrest defendant.

Defendant also contends that even if the police had probable cause to arrest him, the arrest was unlawful because it was made inside his house. Under Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 63 L. Ed. 2d 639, 100 S. Ct. 1371 (1980), entry without a valid warrant into a suspect's residence to effectuate an arrest violates the fourth amendment of the United States Constitution. U.S. Const., amend. IV; see also People v. Wimbley, 314 Ill. App. 3d 18, 731 N.E.2d 290 (2000). At the suppression hearing, Lindenman testified that he and Kline stood on an unenclosed porch at defendant's residence while they spoke to defendant. Defendant was told he ...


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