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People v. Centeno

August 14, 2002

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MELVIN CENTENO, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Vincent M. Gaughan, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Cerda

UNPUBLISHED

Following a jury trial, defendant, Melvin Centeno, was found guilty of first-degree felony murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3) (West 1994)) and armed robbery (720 ILCS 5/18-2 (West 1994)). While defendant was found eligible for the death penalty, the circuit court found the presence of sufficient mitigating factors to preclude imposition of that punishment and sentenced defendant to a term of natural life for murder and a concurrent term of 30 years' imprisonment for armed robbery.

On appeal, defendant argues: (1) the circuit court erred in denying his pretrial motions to quash arrest and suppress evidence; (2) the elicitation of testimony from the victim's wife concerning defendant's relationship with the victim's family, and the prosecutor's comments on the nature of that relationship during closing argument, operated to deny him a fair trial; (3) other argument engaged in by the prosecution during closing was highly inflammatory and rendered his trial unfair; (4) the circuit court erred in refusing to accept a proposed jury instruction concerning the use of prior inconsistent statements as substantive evidence; and (5) his sentence of natural life violates the constitutional principles set forth in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 147 L. Ed. 2d 435, 120 S. Ct. 2348 (2000), or, alternatively, should be vacated as unduly excessive.

We agree with defendant that his motion to quash arrest should have been granted and, for the following reasons, reverse and remand for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

In December 1995, defendant was charged with, inter alia, first degree murder and armed robbery in connection with the November 15, 1995, shooting death of Marcus Osorio.

Prior to trial, defendant moved to quash his arrest and to suppress all evidence arising therefrom, including incriminating statements made to the authorities. Defendant further moved to suppress his statements on the ground they were the product of police misconduct and, hence, involuntary. Following a consolidated hearing, the circuit court denied defendant's motions and the case proceeded to trial in February 1996.

The State's Case

The record establishes that defendant and the victim had become friends in 1989 and, in 1994, defendant moved in with the victim and his wife, Monica Osorio. The parties' living arrangement, however, was not conducive to their friendship and, according to Monica, the relationship between her husband and defendant waned during defendant's stay. Ultimately, defendant was asked to leave shortly before Christmas 1994.

By November 1995, defendant lived with his girlfriend, Elise DeLeon, in an apartment at 2954 West Belle Plaine in Chicago. In describing the nature of her relationship with defendant, Elise explained she bore the primary responsibility for the parties' financial obligations, paying the rent, utility, telephone, and grocery expenses. Elise received no money from defendant, save one occasion when defendant gave her $100, and never knew defendant to have received any form of paycheck.

Elise further testified that at some point during the first two weeks of November 1995, she observed defendant with a small caliber handgun, which he kept in a bedroom closet.

At all relevant times, the victim worked as a teller at a currency exchange located at the intersection of Lincoln, Belmont and Ashland Avenues in Chicago. The currency exchange, which could be accessed by way of doors located of either Lincoln or Belmont Avenue, opened to a general customer area. The customer area was separated by a steel cage that housed the teller station, where the business's currency and other valuables were secured. Access to the teller area could be achieved only through a single, locked entryway. Through this entryway, and just to right of the teller's work station, was a doorway leading to the basement, where a bathroom was located.

On November 15, 1995, the victim arrived for work about 3 p.m. At the time, Lori Torres, the head cashier, was on duty. When Torres left about 7:40 p.m., the victim was the only person in the business.

At about 7:45 p.m. on November 15, Abayomi Olaleye was in the currency exchange. After completing his transactions, Olaleye left about 7:50 p.m. Olaleye testified the teller was the only person in the business when he left.

The victim's wife Monica testified she became concerned about her husband after he failed to return home after the business's normal closing time of 8 p.m. Monica called Greg Rosas, the currency exchange's manager, and asked Rosas to meet her at the business's location.

Upon her arrival, Monica did not see her husband's car parked in its usual spot. Monica, accompanied by her father, greeted Rosas and the group entered the currency exchange through the Belmont door, which showed no signs of forced entry.

Rosas noticed the store's clock was stuck at the 7:57 position and eventually discovered that the circuit breakers had been switched off. Rosas entered the teller's cage, which like the Belmont Avenue door, exhibited no signs of forced entry. Inside the teller cage, Rosas found the victim lying on the floor, dead. A subsequent medical examination determined the victim died as a result of a close-range gunshot wound to the right temple region.

Rosas inspected the teller's cage and noticed the store's safes were open and empty of its contents. The teller's drawers were also devoid of their paper currency. A subsequent examination by the business's owner disclosed that a total of $36,860 was missing.

On the night of the incident, Chicago police detective Ronald Yawger entered the business and inspected the teller's cage. According to Yawger, neither of the building's doors showed signs of forced entry. Yawger also observed no signs of forced entry to the teller cage door. Yawger recovered a spent .25-caliber shell casing approximately five feet from where the victim was discovered.

Upon speaking with Monica, Detective Yawger learned that the victim's overgarment, a hooded Chicago Bears jacket, was missing, as was the victim's vehicle. Yawger further became aware of defendant, who, according to Yawger, was considered a possible suspect. Yawger obtained a photograph of defendant and immediate efforts were made by officers to ascertain defendant's whereabouts.

Defendant's Activities on November 15, 1995, and During the Proceeding Weeks

Elise testified that at about 9 p.m. on November 15, 1995, defendant called and told her he would be home shortly. At about 9:30 p.m., defendant showed up at the apartment of Raul DeLeon, one of Elise's brothers, with two six-packs of beer. Elise's other brother, Melvin DeLeon, was also at the apartment.

After drinking beer for about a half-hour, defendant and Melvin went to Elise's apartment. Elise was home at the time and the group shared some drinks and food in the kitchen. When Melvin exited the kitchen a short time later, he saw defendant sitting in the bedroom counting a large bundle of money.

Elise, upon observing the money, confronted defendant. After Elise's persistent inquiries, defendant stated he got the money from a drug transaction.

The following morning, defendant paid for a taxi to take Elise to work and then proceeded to the airport, where he paid $700 in cash for two airline tickets for a November 17, 1995, flight to Puerto Rico. Defendant used additional cash later that day to purchase $3,100 in furniture and $850 worth of gym shoes and clothing at the Brickyard shopping mall.

On the morning of November 17, 1995, defendant and Elise caught a 7 a.m flight to Puerto Rico. Upon their arrival, defendant paid cash for a rental car, and he and Elise went to a Marriot hotel, where they stayed for about two weeks. Defendant paid the hotel an initial cash deposit of $500 and an additional $1,500 cash to settle the cost of the couple's stay. During the trip, ...


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