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People v. Stephens

July 06, 2001


Appeal from Circuit Court of Adams County No. 00CF79 Honorable Scott H. Walden, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht


In June 2000, a jury convicted defendant, Daniel J. Stephens, of second degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-2(a)(2) (West 1998)). In October 2000, the trial court granted the State's motion to sentence defendant as an adult and sentenced him to 12 years' imprisonment. Defendant appeals, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing him as an adult. We affirm.


The evidence at defendant's trial showed the following. In February 2000, defendant, age 16, and Damian Vogel, age 16, attended an underage drinking party at the home of Brian Morgan, age 16, in rural Liberty, Illinois. Morgan's father had purchased a keg of beer for the teens, and Morgan estimated 45 to 60 people attended the party. During the day, defendant and Ron Willingham had delivered logs to the residence for a bonfire to be held during the party.

Defendant and Vogel were both students at Quincy Senior High School and were acquaintances. At about 9:30 p.m., while at the party, Vogel invited defendant, Nick Niewohner, and Jeff Orebaugh to look at his new car. The group sat inside the car and decided to smoke marijuana from a "bowl" belonging to defendant. Defendant, Vogel, and Orebaugh had been drinking before they started smoking marijuana. After each had taken a number of "hits" from the bowl, defendant vomited in Vogel's car. The young men exited the car, and Vogel demanded defendant clean up the vomit from the car and threatened to "whoop his ass" if defendant did not clean up the vomit. Defendant, who was then sitting on the tailgate of a nearby truck, told Vogel to "chill out" and assured him he would clean it up in a minute. However, Vogel insisted defendant clean it up within two minutes or he would "kick defendant's ass." Chris Wright, age 19, overheard the argument and told Vogel and defendant to stop fighting.

Defendant walked toward the Morgan residence. Vogel followed him and encountered him on the other side of the house. Orebaugh and Niewohner followed Vogel to see what would happen.

Orebaugh testified he saw Vogel tackle defendant by hitting defendant's chest and wrapping his arms around defendant's back. Orebaugh was unsure if this actually knocked defendant down. Vogel and defendant got up, and Vogel then punched defendant's face. Defendant then reached down and picked up a log, described as about 16 inches long and 5 inches in diameter, and struck Vogel twice in the side of the head with the log. Orebaugh stated Vogel then fell to the ground face first. He appeared to be unconscious because he did not move after he fell. Defendant then stood over Vogel's head and swung the log four to six more times to the back of Vogel's head, making definite contact at least three times. While defendant was swinging the log, he was yelling, "I told you not to hit me." Orebaugh stated there was a significant size disparity between defendant and Vogel. Orebaugh described Vogel as approximately 5 feet 11 inches tall and skinny, whereas defendant was approximately 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed more than 230 pounds.

Niewohner testified similarly to Orebaugh and testified Vogel did not move when defendant hit him with the log four to seven times. Niewohner started to run toward defendant, but Chris Wright reached defendant before him and pulled defendant off Vogel.

Wright testified he had been at the party 10 to 15 minutes and was near the bonfire when he heard the sound of "two pieces of heavy wood knocking against each other." When Wright was able to discern where the noise was coming from, he began to run toward Vogel and defendant. As he ran toward them, he continued to hear the noise and saw defendant standing over Vogel. He was able then to tackle defendant off Vogel. Defendant still had the log in his hand, and Wright asked defendant why he had hit Vogel with the log. Defendant replied, "He hit me Chris. What do you expect me to do?" Defendant raised the log at Wright, but Wright ordered him to drop it. Wright told defendant he had killed Vogel, but defendant insisted Vogel was still "okay." Wright checked for Vogel's pulse and noticed a large hole in the back of Vogel's head. Wright yelled for someone to call 911 and then drove away with his girlfriend.

Several other witnesses testified to hearing the sound of repeated "thumps" and to seeing a large individual standing over someone else. The larger figure was yelling crude comments at the individual on the ground and striking the person on the ground with something.

Morgan testified someone told him defendant had hit Vogel in the head, and he then ran to Vogel to see how badly he was hurt. When Morgan saw how badly Vogel was hurt, he told defendant to call an ambulance and to stay there to tell them what he had done. Morgan told everyone else to leave before the police arrived. Defendant then called 911 and said a few words before Morgan took the phone from defendant and gave directions to his home.

Defendant stated to the paramedic on the scene and the first officer on the scene he had struck Vogel in the head three times because Vogel had punched him. He stated Vogel had started it. Defendant pointed out the log he used.

Defendant testified he had walked away from Vogel after Vogel's first threats to "kick his ass." Defendant then walked to his vehicle to get some stuff to clean Vogel's car, and when he walked around the corner of the house, Vogel again threatened him. Defendant then pushed Vogel out of the way and walked passed Vogel. Defendant testified Vogel then struck him twice behind one of his ears. Defendant tried to walk away again, but Vogel tackled him and attempted to knock him down. Defendant caught his balance by placing his hand on the ground, where it happened to rest upon a log. Defendant stated he picked up the log and struck Vogel three times with the log while they where still standing. Defendant stated Vogel fell to the ground on the third blow. ...

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