Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 99 CR 14696 Honorable Ralph Reyna, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Hall
On June 10, 1999, the defendant, Agenor Roman, was charged with one count of unlawful use of a weapon on residential property owned, operated and managed by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) (720 ILCS 5/24-1(a)(4), (c)(1.5) (West 1998)) *fn1 , and one count of aggravated assault of a peace officer (720 ILCS 5/12-2(a)(6) (West 1998)). Two other charges were dismissed prior to trial.
Following a jury trial, the defendant was found not guilty of aggravated assault of a police officer but was found guilty of unlawful use of a weapon on CHA property. The defendant was sentenced to a term of 24 months' probation.
The defendant appeals, raising the following issues: (1) whether the admission of evidence that the arresting officer received an award of valor in connection with this case denied the defendant a fair trial; (2) whether the defendant was denied the effective assistance of counsel; and (3) whether remarks by the prosecutor denied the defendant a fair trial. We reverse and remand for a new trial.
The trial proceedings in this case are summarized below.
Andrew Sobolewski, a detective with the City of Chicago police department, testified that on June 10, 1999, at approximately 11:30 p.m., he was working in the area of the Lathrop CHA housing project. As he was proceeding west on Diversey, he observed several individuals standing on the sidewalk who appeared to be having what Detective Sobolewski termed a "confrontation." He then observed one person from the group walk southbound between two apartment buildings. He described the person as a male Hispanic, between 16 and 19 years of age, dressed in dark clothing, including a dark, hooded sweatshirt. Detective Sobolewski identified this individual as Eric Rodriguez. After receiving some information from a woman at the scene, he radioed for assistance. When Officers Brant and Gevrekis arrived at the scene, Detective Sobolewski gave them a description of Mr. Rodriguez and the information he had received from the woman. Officers Brant and Gevrekis left in their squad car to look for Mr. Rodriguez.
Within a minute of losing sight of their squad car, Detective Sobolewski heard four or five gunshots and received a call from the officers that shots were being fired at them. When he arrived at the location where the officers had indicated they were, he found their empty squad car and called for further assistance. As he traveled southbound on Leavitt toward Hoyne Street, he heard radio transmissions of a man shot and proceeded to the location of the shooting. At the entrance way to a building at 2742 North Hoyne, he saw the defendant, who lay in the hallway, bleeding.
Detective Sobolewski spoke with Officer Claeson, who told him what had occurred. Detective Sobolewski observed several stairs going down to the basement area. At the bottom of the basement stairs, he observed a semi-automatic handgun next to the basement door. The defendant was lying several feet away from the downstairs.
Eddie Gevrekis, a police officer for the City of Chicago, testified that after his partner, Officer Tom Brant, and he had been briefed by Detective Sobolewski, they drove southbound on Leavitt. At 2741 Leavitt, he observed two male Hispanics at the opening of a gangway at that location, one wearing all black clothing and the other all white clothing. Officer Gevrekis identified the defendant as the individual dressed in the all white clothing. The two individuals were standing next to each other. The individual dressed in black displayed a weapon and began firing at the officers. As Officer Gevrekis returned fire, the defendant ran eastbound down a gangway that leads on to Hoyne Street where there is a courtyard.
The individual in black fired one more shot at the officers, and Officer Gevrekis fired four more times. Officer Brant called in that they were being fired upon. The officers pursued the individuals but lost sight of them. On the way back to the squad car, they heard four more shots coming from the courtyard area that they had seen the defendant enter. Later, Officer Gevrekis observed the defendant being placed in an ambulance.
Dean Claeson, a police officer for the City of Chicago, testified that his partner, Officer William Smith, and he responded to Officers Gevrekis and Brant's call that shots were being fired at them. Officer Claeson was wearing shorts, a T-shirt and his bulletproof vest. Officers Claeson and Smith arrived at 2742 Hoyne and proceeded to the back of the building between 2742 Hoyne and the rowhouses that were south of it.
After searching the building, Officer Claeson went back to the front of the building and entered a doorway at 2742 North Hoyne. He noticed that the door was open all the way up against the wall. He proceeded into the doorway and pulled the door back, whereupon he observed an individual, whom he identified as the defendant, squatting down and pointing a firearm at him. He then opened fire. The defendant was about a foot away from him. Officer Claeson later learned that he had fired four shots.
After he fired his weapon, Officer Claeson backed out of the doorway, pulling the door back. Officers Smith, Graves and another officer arrived and pushed back the door. The defendant lay on the landing of the stairway, bleeding. Officer Graves retrieved the weapon that the defendant had allegedly pointed at Officer Claeson from the bottom of the stairway.
On cross-examination, Officer Claeson testified that he did not remember what hand the defendant was holding the weapon in. He just remembered seeing the weapon pointed at him, and fearing for his life, he fired. Officer Claeson did not remember the defendant saying anything to him, nor did he hear another officer say to the defendant, "I hope you die." Officer Claeson denied saying that he had shot the wrong person.
On redirect examination, Officer Claeson testified that, following an investigation of the shooting, he was given an award for valor, which meant bravery above and beyond the call of duty.
Michael Naughton, a detective with the City of Chicago police department, testified that on June 10, 1999, his partner, Rich Szczetkowicz, and he responded to a call of officers being shot at. After arriving at Diversey between Leavitt and Hoyne, the detectives walked south through a courtyard between the buildings, at which point they heard four shots coming from around 2742 Hoyne Street. They met Officer Claeson coming out of the door saying "he had a gun." Detective Naughton looked and saw an individual, whom he identified as the defendant, on the floor. He also observed a gun at the bottom of the stairs about four or five feet from where the defendant was lying.
On cross-examination, Detective Naughton testified that he did not know how the gun got down to the bottom of the stairs. The gun was negative for fingerprints. He did not know if the gun was tested for blood. On redirect examination, Detective Naughton explained that there were prints on the gun but that they could not be compared. On re-cross-examination, Detective Naughton further explained that it did not mean that the prints had been wiped off of the gun.
The parties stipulated that the property at 2742 North Hoyne, known as the Lathrop Homes, was owned, operated or managed by the CHA on June 10, 1999. At the close of the State's case, the defendant moved for a directed verdict which was denied by the trial court.
Michelle Jackson testified that on June 10, 1999, she lived at the Lathrop Homes. Late that evening, she and her boyfriend, Patrick, were walking down the street toward Diversey having an argument. As they were arguing, twice someone shouted from the third floor of a building, "who is that?" Ms. Jackson and Patrick ignored the question both times. The third time, the person said that if they did not answer he was going to shoot at them, and when they did not respond, they were shot at. As they continued to walk to the corner, four men came running after them, one of whom had a gun. The one with the gun was called "Emo" by the others, but Ms. Jackson knew him as "Eric." Ms. Jackson recognized one of the other men as "Ismal." Eric held the gun to Patrick's head, asking who they were and why they were in his neighborhood. Eric ...