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People v. Ford

October 18, 2001

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE,
v.
ERIC FORD, APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas

Released for publication January 24, 2002.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE,
v.
ERIC FORD, APPELLANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas

PUBLISHED

Docket No. 90083-Agenda 35-May 2001.

 The issue presented is whether defendant's 100-year extended-term sentence for the commission of first degree murder is constitutional under the United States Supreme Court's decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 147 L. Ed. 2d 435, 120 S. Ct. 2348 (2000). We hold that it is.

BACKGROUND

The facts are not in dispute. On February 17, 1995, a tugboat captain found Tommy Glass' body lying on the bank of the Calumet Sag Channel. The body was lacerated, badly decomposed, and missing several parts. Due to the condition of Glass' body, which had been immersed in the channel for several weeks, the original autopsy report listed the cause of death as "indeterminate."

On April 5, 1995, defendant confessed to participating in Glass' murder. According to defendant's statement, on December 27, 1994, defendant and three fellow gang members grabbed Glass off the street and dragged him into a nearby apartment to question him concerning the murder of their friend James Chapman. When Glass denied any involvement in Chapman's murder, all four men repeatedly punched him in the face. Attempting to protect himself, Glass curled up into a ball on the floor. One of defendant's cohorts summoned a fifth member of defendant's gang, Altai Thornton, who was passing on the street. Thornton entered the apartment and began beating Glass' head and body with a paint can. According to defendant, "It was kind of funny at that point." Thornton then entered the kitchen, removed all four heated burners from the stove, and seared Glass' face with each of the burners. Each searing lasted "like thirty seconds," and defendant "could hear his face sizzling." Defendant and Thornton then used duct tape to bind Glass' ankles, knees, arms, and mouth. Once Glass was bound, Thornton heated a metal rake on the stove and again seared Glass' head.

At this point, Thornton suggested tossing Glass into the Calumet Sag Channel. Defendant objected, noting that Glass "would float up to the top." Defendant was outvoted, however, and the five men carried Glass to a nearby hill, where defendant and Thornton rolled Glass' body to the water's edge. Glass was still alive at this point, so, while defendant watched, Thornton held Glass under the water for about 10 minutes. Finally, defendant "saw [Thornton] push down one last time and come back to the shore."

Following a bench trial, defendant was convicted of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 1998)). The State sought imposition of the death penalty, and defendant waived a jury for both phases of the capital sentencing hearing. The trial court found defendant eligible for the death penalty both because the murder was committed in the course of another felony (720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(6) (West 1998)) and because the murder was intentional and involved the infliction of torture (720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(14) (West 1998)). The trial court declined to impose the death penalty, however, noting that defendant was young, had confessed to the crime, had cooperated with the police, and lacked a significant criminal record. The trial court instead imposed an extended-term sentence of 100 years based upon its finding that the murder "was accompanied by exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty." See 730 ILCS 5/5-5-3.2(b)(2), 5-8-2(a)(1) (West 1998).

Defendant appealed his conviction and sentence, and the appellate court affirmed in an unpublished order. No. 1-99-0104 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). Two months later, defendant filed a petition for rehearing in which he argued for the first time that his 100-year extended-term sentence was unconstitutional under Apprendi. The appellate court denied the petition "for want of jurisdiction." Defendant then filed a motion for leave to file a late petition for leave to appeal, and this court granted both the motion and the petition. 177 Ill. 2d Rs. 315(a), (b).

ANALYSIS

Defendant argues that his 100-year extended-term sentence is unconstitutional under the United States Supreme Court's decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 147 L. Ed. 2d 435, 120 S. Ct. 2348 (2000). According to defendant, under section 5-8-1(a)(1) of the Unified Code of Corrections (the Code) (730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1) (West 1998)), the maximum sentence for first degree murder in Illinois is 60 years. Although sections 5-5-3.2(b)(2) and 5-8-2(a)(1) of the Code (730 ILCS 5/5-5-3.2(b)(2), 5-8-2(a)(1) (West 1998)) authorize the imposition of an extended-term sentence of between 60 and 100 years if the trial court finds that the murder "was accompanied by exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty," that finding need not be based upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, that finding need only be based upon a preponderance of the evidence. This, defendant insists, violates Apprendi's mandate that "any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and ...


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