The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman
Docket No. 89226-Agenda 4-May 2002.
In the circuit court of Cook County, defendant, Cortez Brown, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. On direct appeal, this court affirmed defendant's conviction, but vacated his death sentence and remanded for a new sentencing hearing. People v. Brown, 169 Ill. 2d 132, 153, 164 (1996). Following the new sentencing hearing, a jury found defendant eligible for the death penalty and further determined that there were no mitigating circumstances sufficient to preclude the imposition of that sentence. Accordingly, the trial court sentenced defendant to death. That sentence has been stayed pending direct review by this court. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §4(b); 134 Ill. 2d Rs. 603, 609(a). For the reasons that follow, we vacate defendant's death sentence and remand for a new sentencing hearing.
In 1992, defendant was convicted in a bench trial of the June 8, 1990, murder of Curtis Sims and was sentenced to death. On direct appeal, this court affirmed defendant's conviction, but granted him a new sentencing hearing because his waiver of a jury for sentencing was invalid. People v. Brown, 169 Ill. 2d 132, 153, 164 (1996). In a separate proceeding, held before defendant was tried and convicted for the Sims murder, a jury found defendant guilty of the September 16, 1990, murder of Delvin Boelter, and defendant was sentenced to a 35-year prison term. While defendant's appeal was pending in this court for the Sims murder, the appellate court reversed defendant's conviction for the Boelter murder and remanded that cause for a new trial. People v. Brown, No. 1-92-2732 (1995) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).
On remand, defendant's two causes were assigned to separate trial courts. Defense counsel in this case asked the trial court to preclude the State from conducting the Boelter retrial before defendant was resentenced for the Sims murder. After hearing argument from defense counsel and the State, the trial court denied defense counsel's request. Thereafter, on February 2, 1997, defendant was again convicted for the murder of Boelter and was sentenced to a 35-year prison term.
On August 25, 1999, jury selection for defendant's new sentencing hearing for the Sims murder commenced. Twelve jurors and two alternates were chosen from two venire panels. During the eligibility phase, the State admitted into evidence certified copies of defendant's murder convictions from the circuit court of Cook County and a certified copy of defendant's birth certificate. In addition, the State presented two witnesses who testified to the facts and circumstances of the Sims and Boelter murders. At the close of the eligibility phase, the jury was given the following aggravating factors to consider in deciding whether defendant was eligible for the death penalty: (1) the murder was committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner pursuant to a preconceived plan, scheme, or design to take a human life by unlawful means, and the conduct of the defendant created a reasonable expectation that the death of a human being would result therefrom, or (2) the defendant has been convicted of murdering two or more persons, so long as the deaths were the result of separate acts which the defendant knew would cause death, or create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to the murdered individual or another. After deliberations, the jury found that defendant was eligible for the death penalty because defendant was 18 years of age at the time of the murder for which he was convicted of in this case and defendant had been convicted of murdering two or more individuals, which were the result of separate acts in which the defendant knew would cause death or create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to the murdered individual or another. See 720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(3) (West 1998).
Upon completion of the second stage of the sentencing hearing, and after considering evidence in aggravation and mitigation, the jury found no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of the death penalty. Accordingly, the trial court sentenced defendant to death.
Defendant appeals directly to this court under Supreme Court Rules 603 and 609(a) (134 Ill. 2d Rs. 603, 609(a)). Additional pertinent facts will be discussed in the context of the issues raised in this appeal.
The defendant raises several challenges to the propriety of his remand for a new sentencing hearing. Due to our disposition of this case, however, we address only the following contentions: (1) whether the State manipulated the trial court's docket, and (2) whether the trial court conducted a proper voir dire of the venire.
Defendant contends that the State manipulated the trial court's docket by proceeding on defendant's new trial ordered by the appellate court for the murder of Boelter before conducting the new sentencing hearing ordered by this court on his conviction for the murder of Sims. Defendant asserts that the State made a deliberate decision to arrange the proceedings to provide the State with a second aggravating factor in defendant's new sentencing hearing. Defendant argues that the remandment proceedings should have been litigated in the order in which the offenses originally occurred, i.e., the Sims new sentencing hearing should have concluded before the start of the Boelter new trial because Sims was murdered on June 8, 1990, and Boelter was murdered on September 16, 1990.
In support of his contention, defendant cites People v. Albanese, 104 Ill. 2d 504 (1984). There, the defendant argued that the prosecutors manipulated the trial court's docket in his two cases, thereby contributing to the arbitrary and capricious nature of his death sentence. Albanese, 104 Ill. 2d at 532. To support his claim, the defendant affixed a newspaper article to his brief that quoted a prosecutor stating: "If his [the defendant's] conviction should be reversed or if the death penalty were to be vacated, we want to have a second conviction on him as a backup." Albanese, 104 Ill. 2d at 532. This court found that the prosecutor's remark, which was in response to an inquiry as to why more public funds should be spent on a second ...