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People v. Bilski

September 20, 2002


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 00-CF-1386 Honorable John T. Phillips, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Grometer

Defendant, Gene R. Bilski, pleaded guilty to a charge of first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9--1 (West 1998)). Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed a sentence of 63 years' imprisonment. Defendant now appeals this sentence. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

Before turning to the merits of this appeal, we wish to address the importance we attach to parties' compliance with the supreme court rules that govern the form and content of appellate briefs. Upon reviewing defendant's opening brief, we noted that defendant failed to comply with a number of these rules. Most problematic was defendant's persistent failure to provide pinpoint citations to the cases upon which he relies. Rule 341(d) states that "[c]itations shall be made as provided in Rule 6." Official Reports Advance Sheet No. 21 (October 17, 2001), R. 341(d), eff. October 1, 2001. Rule 6 requires that "[c]itations of cases must be by title, to the page of the volume where the case begins, and to the pages upon which the pertinent matter appears in at least one of the reporters cited." (Emphasis added.) 145 Ill. 2d R. 6. The failure to comply with these rules justifies finding an argument waived. See Chicago Title & Trust Co. v. Weiss, 238 Ill. App. 3d 921, 927-28 (1992). As the application of these rules would have resulted in defendant's waiving all of his arguments, we issued a rule to show cause why this appeal should not be dismissed. Defendant subsequently filed an amended brief that complied with the applicable rules. Hence, we will proceed to the merits of defendant's arguments.


Defendant entered an Alford plea (see North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 37, 27 L. Ed. 2d 162, 171, 91 S. Ct. 160, 167 (1970) (holding a defendant is entitled to enter a guilty plea while maintaining his or her innocence)) to a charge of first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9--1 (West 1998)) arising out of the death of 57-day-old Trinity Bilski. Defendant was not Trinity's biological father. Pursuant to a plea agreement, he was to receive a sentence of between 20 and 75 years' imprisonment. A sentencing hearing was held on March 13, 2001.

At the hearing, Jeffrey Norris, a police officer, was the first to testify. Norris stated that paramedics were called to the residence of defendant and Cheryl Issacson, Trinity's mother, on the evening of December 30, 1999. Upon their arrival, they found defendant and Issacson in the front yard; defendant was holding Trinity. Trinity was transported to the Northern Illinois Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead upon arrival. Norris proceeded to the hospital and was informed by the paramedics that the emergency-room doctor was suspicious as to the cause of Trinity's death. The doctor observed specks of blood in Trinity's eyes, which is common in child-abuse cases.

Norris and a deputy coroner interviewed defendant and Issacson. Issacson related that during the day Trinity appeared to have a cold, was fussy, and was not eating properly. She and defendant decided to go to the store to get some groceries and medication. Between 4:30 and 5 p.m., Trinity was refusing to eat. Her gums were clenched so that Issacson could not insert the nipple of her bottle. Upon their arrival home, Issacson removed Trinity from the car and defendant unloaded the groceries. She placed Trinity on the floor in her car seat and started to put the groceries away. About 10 minutes later, she removed Trinity from the car seat and noticed that she was limp and blue. Defendant told Issacson to call 911, and he attempted to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on Trinity. At this point, they went outside to await the ambulance. Issacson also related that she had been home all day and she had not observed any bruises upon Trinity prior to calling the ambulance.

Norris also interviewed defendant at the hospital. Defendant largely agreed with what Issacson had related to Norris. He did not indicate during this interview that he had any knowledge as to how Trinity had become injured. He also did not state whether he had been alone with the infant that day.

The next morning, Norris was present at the autopsy that was performed upon Trinity. The autopsy was performed by Dr. Lawrence Blum. Dr. Blum noted a small swelling on Trinity's forehead, which he said was unusual and a cause for concern, as well as two small bruises on the left side of her head. An internal examination revealed three fractured ribs; one fracture showed signs of healing. Dr. Blum also discovered three fractures on the infant's skull. Finally, the doctor observed hemorrhages in Trinity's body, head, and eyes. Dr. Blum believed that death was the result of severe trauma to the head from a blunt object.

Defendant and Issacson were interviewed a second time at the Fox Lake police department. She reiterated the version of events that she had given the night before. Issacson stated that she did not know how her child had become injured. She also stated that she never saw defendant do anything harmful to the baby. Issacson agreed to take a polygraph examination.

Defendant also reiterated the statement that he gave at the hospital. Norris then informed defendant of the results of the autopsy. Defendant replied that neither he nor Issacson would harm Trinity. At about this time, Norris received a phone call and was informed that a radiologist had discovered fractures in Trinity's right arm, right leg, and left hip. He informed defendant of these findings. Defendant then stated that he sometimes played roughly with Trinity. He said that he would pick her up by the arms and bounce her on her legs. Defendant stated that he believed this would strengthen her limbs. He related that he would sometimes drop Trinity from a height of a foot or two onto a bed. Defendant also stated that on one occasion he was bathing the infant in a marble sink. He left her momentarily to get something, and she may have hit her head.

Still later in the interview, defendant asked what would happen if Trinity had been dropped down a flight of stairs. Detective Schindler, who was also present during the interview, told defendant that it could cause serious injuries to a baby. Defendant then explained that he was carrying Trinity down a flight of stairs, lost his balance, and dropped her. According to defendant, Trinity was crying. He checked her for injuries but discovered none, so he assumed everything was fine. Defendant stated that this occurred before he and Issacson had gone shopping on December 30. He added that he did not tell Issacson because he was embarrassed and feared she would leave him.

Norris also interviewed defendant's grandfather. The grandfather related that defendant had been stationed in Saudi Arabia while serving in the Navy. Defendant would call home daily, crying and wanting to come home. On one occasion, he was found banging his head on a wall and had to be sedated. The grandfather also described problems between him and defendant. He stated that defendant angered easily and often threatened him. He obtained an order of protection against defendant following an incident where the grandfather required hospitalization.

Norris also acknowledged that there were no records of medical reports indicating abuse prior to Trinity's death. He stated that defendant had never bothered Issacson or tried to influence her testimony. Defendant remained in the area during the investigation. Norris further acknowledged that there were no indications that defendant abused alcohol or drugs. He further testified that, at the time of Trinity's death, Issacson was working full time.

The State next called Dr. Blum, who performed the autopsy on Trinity. Blum first testified that he found four bruises on Trinity's head. In his internal examination, Blum first located four fresh rib fractures on the front side of Trinity's rib cage. He also found two fractures on the rear side of her rib cage that showed signs of healing. He estimated that these fractures were between 7 and 14 days old. He found a bruise on the muscle overlying her left chest region. His internal examination of Trinity's skull revealed bruises on the skull's interior. Some corresponded to bruises on the outside of her skull; however, Blum also found additional bruises. He also observed three skull fractures. He noted that Trinity's brain was swollen, its normal curvature was flattened, and there was evidence of hemorrhaging.

Blum opined that the fractures were caused by impacts with a hard round or flattened object. He stated that such injuries were typical of fatal or near-fatal events, rather than simple falls or roughhousing. He characterized the blunt force necessary to produce such an injury as "severe." Ultimately, he opined that Trinity died of brain swelling and hemorrhaging around the brain caused by an abusive head injury.

Blum also testified that Trinity's eyes were removed and sent to a specialist for analysis. Hemorrhages in the globe of the eyes and along the optical nerves were observed. Additionally, the specialist located signs of iron staining in her eye tissue. Iron staining occurs when red blood cells break down. Blum stated that it takes at least two to three days for the cells to break down. The specialist was of the opinion that the hemorrhaging in the eyes was of a nonaccidental etiology. Blum also received a report from a radiologist. The radiologist confirmed the skull fractures and found additional fractures to Trinity's arms and legs. A fracture to the infant's right arm showed signs of healing.

Further, Blum opined that the rib fractures would be very painful, since the ribs would move every time Trinity took a breath. He added that it was unlikely that the fresh rib fractures were caused by CPR and impossible that the healing ones were. Blum stated that Trinity's injuries were caused by more than one impact and that the totality of her injuries was not consistent with a fall down the stairs. ...

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