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People v. Collier

March 29, 2002


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Quinn


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Joseph G. Kasmierski, Judge Presiding.

Following a jury trial, defendant Michael Collier was convicted of first degree murder and attempted first degree murder. He was sentenced to consecutive prison terms of 40 and 15 years, respectively. On appeal, defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to reopen his case after he had rested so that he could testify. He also contends that his consecutive prison terms are unconstitutional under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 147 L. Ed. 2d 435, 120 S. Ct. 2348 (2000). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm defendant's convictions and sentence.


Vontain Mercier testified that about 4 p.m. on September 3, 1997, he was with Cornelius Washington at Fernwood Park, which is located near 104th and Wallace in Chicago, waiting to play basketball when they heard gunshots and began to run. Immediately prior to hearing the gunshots, Vontain saw defendant, whom he did not know at the time, sitting on a bench drinking a beer. Vontain also stated that he noticed a blue van with gray trim in the park's parking lot. After hearing the shots, Vontain saw a second man run to the blue van.

After leaving the park, Vontain and Washington eventually went to Vontain's house, located at 10141 South Wallace. While standing in front of the house with his brother, Dionte Mercier, Dion Wadley and Washington, Vontain saw defendant driving the blue van he had seen earlier at Fernwood Park. Defendant gave a "tough look" in the direction of the four on the street, pulled over and got out of the van. Defendant screamed something, which Vontain made out as "What's up?" and approached. When about 25 feet from them, defendant fired in the direction of Vontain and the others. Vontain stated that he heard about 15 shots fired. Washington, who was shot in the chest, died as a result of his wounds. Dionte was struck in the leg.

Later that night, Vontain was taken by police to 100th and Aberdeen, where he identified a van as the one defendant was driving prior to the shootings. About 11 p.m. the same night, Vontain identified defendant in a police lineup. In the same lineup, Vontain also identified John Clark as someone he had seen earlier that day at Fernwood Park. In open court, Vontain identified defendant as the person who shot Washington.

Dionte testified that, at the relevant time, he was standing on the curb with Vontain, Washington and Wadley talking when he saw defendant, whom he had never previously seen, approach driving a blue van traveling around 10 miles an hour. When the van stopped, defendant exited the driver's side, which was the side of the van closest to Dionte, and loudly asked, "What's up with that shit at the park?" Dionte stated that there was a passenger in the van who never got out of the vehicle. Defendant, from about 30 feet away, then raised his right arm and fired six or seven shots in rapid succession at the four men on the street. In response, they fled the scene. While running, Dionte fell and realized that he had been shot in the right leg. After making it back to the house, Dionte heard a second round of about 12 shots fired, followed by the voice of Sammie Lee Skyles, his neighbor, yelling "Get the license plate."

Dionte was taken to Roseland Hospital by ambulance where his leg wound was treated. Later that evening, after being released from the hospital, Dionte viewed a police lineup. Both in open court and at the lineup, Dionte identified defendant as the driver of the van. In the same lineup, he identified Clark as defendant's passenger in the van. Although he did not know Clark's name at the time of the lineup, he recognized him as someone with whom he had previously played basketball.

Travis Morgan, who had a case involving an alleged assault pending at the time of defendant's trial, stated that on the date in question, he lived across the street from the Merciers. About 6 p.m. that evening, he was in front of his house while Dionte, Vontain and two others were standing near the Mercier home. At that time, Morgan saw a van driving down the street toward his home. A man, whom Morgan identified in open court as defendant, got out of the van and began shooting at the four men standing in front of the Mercier home until he appeared to be out of bullets. Defendant then got into the van and coasted to a nearby corner. Once there, defendant got out of the van, appeared to reload the gun and began shooting at Morgan's neighbors, who had attempted to get the van's license plate number. Later that evening, Morgan identified defendant in a police lineup as the person who had exited the van and fired the shots.

Officer Lynn Lopit of the Chicago police department testified that she and her partner arrived at the crime scene about 7 p.m. where they recovered one .45-caliber cartridge casing at 10137 South Wallace and three .38-caliber cartridge casings near 102nd and Wallace. After inventorying the casings, they proceeded to 100th and Aberdeen, where they had been told that a van used during the shooting was located. There, they found the blue van from which they recovered a bloody shirt and two .38-caliber cartridge casings. No weapons were found in the van. Testing performed by a forensic scientist specializing in firearms identification revealed that all five .38-caliber casings recovered the day of the shootings were fired from the same weapon.

Sammie Lee Skyles testified that on September 3, 1997, she lived with her family at 10151 South Wallace. About 6 p.m. that day she heard gunshots and went to her front door, where she saw people running down the street. Near the corner of 101st and Wallace, Skyles saw her son and daughter. After Skyles shouted to her children to get the license plate number to the van, the person driving it got out and asked, "[Y]ou want the license plate number, humm?" He then stated, "[H]ere it is," and began shooting. Skyles was unable to see the face of the shooter.

Officer Michael Sweeney testified that he arrived at the crime scene shortly after 6 p.m. and conducted interviews with witnesses. With the information he had gathered, Sweeney began looking for an older model, gray Chevrolet conversion van with blue trim and a Minnesota license plate. After receiving a radio message, Sweeney went to 10023 South Aberdeen where, about 6:45 p.m., he saw a van fitting the description he had been given. Inside the van were two black males. As Sweeney and his partner approached, the person in the passenger seat fled. Defendant, who was sitting in the driver's seat, then got out of the van. Sweeney saw a spent shell casing on the stepboard of the van, arrested defendant and advised him of his rights.

Initially, defendant denied being at the park and stated that he was not involved in the shootings. But, when questioned about the bloody shirt in the van, defendant, who did not appear to have been shot, stated that he had been at Fernwood Park. He further stated that in exchange for $4, he had given a friend, who had been shot at the park, a ride to a hospital. When questioned about the van, defendant stated that he owned it and that he was the only person who had access to it.

After the State rested, the parties stipulated that if called to testify, Detectives Fassl and Almazan would state they spoke with Dionte at Area 2 police headquarters about 10:55 p.m. the night of September 3, 1997, and that he identified Clark as being with defendant at the time of the shooting. It was further stipulated that the detectives would testify that they spoke with Vontain at Area 2 the same night and were told by him that both the driver and passenger had gotten out of the van before the shooting. It was also stipulated that Vontain identified Clark as being with defendant when defendant did the shooting.

Following these stipulations, the defense rested. After dismissing the jury for lunch, the following exchange occurred:

"THE COURT: Mr. Collier, I want to address you for a moment here regarding the case. Your attorney just rested the case, and I want to advise you that you have a right to testify in this case if you want to. You also have a right not to testify. ...

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