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People v. Hansen

January 31, 2002

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
KENNETH HANSEN, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE,



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Hoffman

UNPUBLISHED

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable Mary Ellen Coghlan, Judge Presiding.

Following a jury trial in 1995, the defendant, Kenneth Hansen, was convicted of the 1955 murders of 13-year old Robert Peterson, 13-year old John Schuessler, and 11-year old Tony Schuessler and sentenced to not less than 200 years and not more than 300 years in prison. On direct appeal, this Court, finding that certain evidence had been improperly admitted at trial, reversed the defendant's convictions and remanded the case to the circuit court for a new trial. People v. Hansen, 313 Ill. App. 3d 491, 729 N.E.2d 934 (2000). On remand, the trial judge denied the State's motions in limine to admit certain evidence. The State now appeals the pre-trial evidentiary rulings pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 604(a). 188 Ill. 2d R. 604(a). For the reasons which follow, we affirm.

The evidence introduced at the defendant's first trial is set forth in detail in our earlier opinion. Hansen, 313 Ill. App. 3d at 491. We will set forth only as much of that evidence as is necessary for the resolution of the issues before us.

At the first trial, the parties stipulated that, if called, Malcolm Peterson would testify as follows. His son Robert was home all morning on October 16, 1955. The family ate lunch around 1 or 1:30 p.m., and sometime thereafter the Schuessler boys arrived at the Peterson home. Robert asked his father what movie he thought the boys should see, and Mr. Peterson suggested a movie titled The African Lion, which was playing at the Loop Theater. The boys "thought that would be good," and Mr. Peterson called the Loop Theater to find out the price of admission and length of the film, which was to run one hour and forty five minutes. The three boys left the Petersons' house between 3:15 and 3:30 p.m.

The State presented evidence that Robert Peterson entered the Garland building, located at 111 North Wabash Avenue in Chicago, at 6 p.m. on October 16, 1955, and remained there for five minutes. Ernest Niewiadomski testified that the victims arrived at the Monte Cristo Bowling Alley, located at 3326 West Montrose in Chicago, around 7:30 p.m that same evening. According to Niewiadomski, the victims told him they had just seen a movie titled The African Lion and had stopped in the bowling alley on their way home. Niewiadomski further testified that the victims left the bowling alley around 8 p.m., dressed in jeans and baseball jackets. Around 8:30 or 9 p.m. that night, another witness saw Tony Schuessler and two other boys, who were dressed in jeans and "sports jackets," standing on Milwaukee Avenue, just south of Lawrence Avenue. Tony Schuessler had his thumb extended as if he were hitchhiking. Between 9 and 10 p.m. that night, another witness heard two screams coming from the direction of the Idle Hours Stable. The victims' bodies were discovered two days later in a forest preserve located near the stable.

The State called four witnesses, each of whom testified that the defendant admitted having killed three boys. The defendant's alleged statements to these witnesses varied somewhat. The sum of the statements, however, was that the defendant picked up three boys hitchhiking and took them to a stable, where he performed oral sex on one or more of the boys. When one of the boys threatened to tell either his parents or the police about this, the defendant killed the boys and dumped their bodies in the forest preserve. Two witnesses testified that the defendant referred to one or more of the boys as Peterson, and one witness testified that the defendant stated that the stable to which he took the boys was the Idle Hours Stable. Although one witness testified the defendant admitted the crimes to him in October 1955, the statements to the remaining three witnesses were allegedly made years later. The State also presented evidence that the defendant worked at the Idle Hours Stable around the time of the murders.

In his defense, the defendant presented evidence that he had never worked at the Idle Hours Stable. He also presented the testimony of Dan Strong, with whom he had served in the military. Strong testified that the defendant and his wife, Beverly, visited him in Texas in 1955. Defense counsel showed Strong a number of photographs from that trip in which Strong identified himself, the defendant, and Beverly Hansen. Strong testified that, to the best of his recollection, the visit took place in October 1955 but that he could not recall the exact dates. According to Strong, he had been unable to find any photographs or documentation of the trip that contained a date.

Upon remand, the State filed the two motions in limine at issue in this appeal. In one of the motions, the State sought a ruling that it would be allowed to introduce evidence that the defendant, who did not intend to present an alibi defense at the second trial, had presented a false alibi at the first trial. In the second motion, the State sought a ruling that it would be allowed to introduce the testimony of Bruce and Glen Carter regarding a conversation they had with the victims on October 16, 1955, in which the victims are alleged to have stated that they were going to an ice cream parlor and then were getting a ride to the horse stables from a person named Hansen. The State argued that such testimony was admissible under the state-of-mind exception to the hearsay rule to establish that the victims acted in accordance with their stated intent.

The trial court heard arguments on various motions in limine, including those at issue here. At the hearing, the trial court denied the State's motion in limine to admit evidence of a false alibi and took under advisement the State's motion in limine to introduce the Carter brothers' testimony regarding their conversation with the victims. Subsequently, the trial court also denied the latter motion. Thereafter, the State filed its certificate of substantial impairment and its notice of appeal from both rulings. 188 Ill. 2d R. 604(a); People v. Carlton, 98 Ill. 2d 187, 192, 455 N.E.2d 1385 (1983) ("a certification of impairment must be filed in every case in which the People seek to appeal from a pretrial order suppressing evidence").

Before turning to the merits of the State's appeal, we must determine the applicable standard of review. As a general rule, a trial court's rulings on a motion in limine regarding the introduction or exclusion of evidence is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. People v. Kirchner, 194 Ill. 2d 502, 539, 743 N.E.2d 94 (2000); People v. Childress, 158 Ill. 2d 275, 296, 633 N.E.2d 635 (1994). The defendant argues that this is the appropriate standard to be applied here. The State, however, argues that the "plethora of reviewing court decisions stating that evidentiary rulings will not be disturbed on review absent an abuse of discretion" are of no import because they were decided prior to People v. Crane, 195 Ill. 2d 42, 51-52, 743 N.E.2d 555 (2001), in which, the State asserts, our supreme court settled the question of what standard governs review of trial court rulings on matters involving mixed questions of fact and law. The State maintains that the admissibility of the evidence at issue here involves mixed questions of law and fact and that, as such, Crane mandates that, although we must give the trial court's factual findings deference, we must review its rulings de novo. The State does not identify the questions of law involved here. Rather, it simply asserts that the ultimate determination as to the admissibility of the evidence in question, although based on an assessment of facts, involves a legal conclusion.

We cannot agree with the State's assertion that Crane, which involved not an evidentiary ruling but a speedy trial issue, is to be interpreted as requiring de novo review of evidentiary rulings such as those involved here, i.e. the admissibility of evidence under an exception to the hearsay rule and the admissibility of evidence to establish consciousness of guilt. Rather, in People v. Caffey, No. 86975 (October 18, 2001), decided after Crane, our supreme court rejected the defendant's argument that it should review de novo the trial court's exclusion of certain evidence on the grounds that it constituted hearsay. The Caffey court noted that:

"The decision whether to admit evidence cannot be made in isolation. The trial court must consider a number of circumstances that bear on that issue, including questions of reliability and prejudice. [Citation.] In this case, the trial court exercised discretion in making these evidentiary rulings, i.e., the court based these rulings on the specific circumstances of this case and not on a broadly applicable rule. [Citations.]" Caffey, No. 86975, slip op. at 21.

As our supreme court has acknowledged, however, evidentiary rulings are properly subject to de novo review in situations where the admissibility of the evidence in question turns upon a question of statutory interpretation or other question of law. People v. Williams, 188 Ill. 2d 365, 369, 721 N.E.2d 539 (1999); People v. Hall, 195 Ill. 2d 1, 21, 743 N.E.2d 126 (2000). The State contends that we should review the trial court's pre-trial evidentiary rulings de novo because "the court's assessment of the facts was firmly grounded in errors of law." We will address the allegations of legal error which the State asserts as to each of the trial ...


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