Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 99-CF-7 Honorable Stephen M. Kernan, Judge, presiding.
Justices: Honorable Clyde L. Kuehn, J.
Honorable Thomas M. Welch, J., and
Honorable Richard P. Goldenhersh, J.,
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kuehn
Angela Knuckle and Rosario James worked for D&D Motors, a used-car dealership in Fairmont City, Illinois. On December 31, 1998, they were the only employees working. Everyone else was enjoying the day off, awaiting the imminent celebration of a new year. Any plans that Angela and Rosario may have had for a festive evening were not to be. Neither would be celebrating that night.
Around noon, two men appeared at the dealership. As Angela and Rosario readied themselves for a possible sale, they discovered that the men did not come to buy a car. They found themselves looking down the barrels of two handguns. Byron Madison, the defendant, trained a . 32-caliber automatic on them. His cohort, John Pickens, wielded a . 38-caliber revolver.
The defendant and Pickens tied up Angela and Rosario at gunpoint. After the two sales attendants were securely bound, the armed duo easily gathered loot. They pocketed all of the dealership cash on hand, a tidy sum of more than $3,000. Pickens noticed that Angela was wearing a diamond ring, a token recently placed on Angela's hand after her acceptance of a marriage proposal. Pickens removed it.
While Pickens robbed Angela of her keepsake, the defendant looked over the keys to the car lot's inventory. He grabbed a set in order to commandeer a dealership car on the way out.
With Angela and Rosario unable to summon any immediate help, an easy and undetected getaway was ensured. But first, Pickens wanted to rob Angela and Rosario of one more thing-their future. He walked over to Angela, lowered his .38-caliber handgun to her head, and squeezed off a round. After inflicting a point-blank head wound, he fired another bullet into her back for good measure. Rosario watched. He no doubt realized his peril as Pickens turned toward him and again aimed to kill.
Pickens raised his weapon, trained it at Rosario's head, and fired off the first of two rounds. He aimed and fired a second shot at Rosario's back. Pickens left the dealership, content in the belief that he had ended things for Angela and Rosario. He certainly did not expect to hear from either of them again.
Pickens' best efforts notwithstanding, neither Angela nor Rosario died. The bullet intended for Rosario's head passed through his neck instead. The second bullet lodged in his back. Rosario did not lose consciousness. It was the stroke of luck that saved Angela and Rosario from bleeding to death on the dealership floor. Both of them lived to recount the events of that New Year's Eve day and to identify their assailants.
The defendant and Pickens found the car that fit the keys taken by the defendant. They got in and drove off, confident that their ride would not be reported stolen for quite some time. Rosario watched them depart. Spurred by his desperate condition and a will to live, Rosario struggled to free himself. In spite of his critical condition, he broke free and reported the robbery and shooting to the police. He also reported the make and model of the car in which the defendant and Pickens had driven off. An all-points bulletin was issued for the stolen car.
Moments later, an Illinois state patrol officer spotted the reported vehicle. When he engaged his sirens and attempted to close in for an arrest, a high-speed chase ensued. Other officers joined in. The chase ended when the defendant, who was driving the car, lost control and crashed. The police grabbed their stunned prey, removed them from the damaged car, and searched them. They found more than $2,000 in cash on Pickens and more than $1,000 in cash on the defendant. A later search along the route of the attempted escape yielded the two handguns that the defendant and Pickens had used in the robbery. The .32-caliber handgun was inoperable. The other weapon, a .38-caliber revolver, was in working order. Tests established that it was the gun used by Pickens in his effort to kill Angela and Rosario.
The defendant gave the police a self-serving statement. For some reason, the State introduced it into evidence at the defendant's trial, allowing the defendant a theory of defense without having to testify. The following self-serving claims were thus made known to the jury, without the test of cross-examination.
The defendant claimed that before he agreed to take part in the robbery, he told Pickens that he did not want anyone to get hurt. Based on his belief that Pickens would honor his wishes, he announced, when he entered the dealership, that no one would get hurt. He also claimed that Pickens' gunplay came as a total and unexpected surprise. In this regard, he pointed out that he had armed himself with a broken weapon that could not be used to kill anyone. In addition to these self-serving claims, the defendant admitted his complicity and role in the armed robbery.
Based upon these claims, defense counsel fashioned a defense that allowed him to stand before the jurors and tell them that the defendant should not be found guilty of anything other than robbery. The jurors disagreed. They found the defendant guilty of armed robbery, two attempted murders, and two aggravated batteries with a firearm.
The trial judge sentenced the defendant for committing the two attempted murders and the armed robbery. He found that the defendant's history of criminality fit the statutory criteria necessary to impose a punishment reserved for habitual criminals. Hence, he determined that the defendant's sentences for all three offenses should be the same. The defendant currently serves three prison terms, none of which expire until he does.
The defendant wants us to overturn his multiple convictions. Or in lieu of an outright reversal or a new trial, he asks us to vacate his natural-life prison terms. He maintains that we should remand for the imposition of a punishment within the ...