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People v. Bowman

December 27, 2002


Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 79-CF-327

Honorable Richard A. Aguirre and Honorable Roger M. Scrivner, Judges, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Hopkins

Gregory Bowman (defendant) was convicted in 1979 for the murders of two young women. Twenty years later, a newspaper article alleged a previously unknown collaboration between the detective to whom defendant confessed and a cellblock mate of defendant's during the time of his confession. Defendant filed a post-conviction petition asserting that the new information rendered his confession coerced and his constitutional rights violated. After a hearing on defendant's post-conviction petition, the trial court granted defendant a new trial. During the proceedings, the trial court imposed sanctions against the St. Clair County State's Attorney's office, to reimburse defendant for his expenses in responding to motions filed by the State.

The State appeals the trial court's order granting defendant a new trial and the trial court's order imposing sanctions. The State asserts, inter alia, that the trial court erred in ordering a new trial, because the evidence indicated no police scheme to coerce defendant's confession, and that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing sanctions. We affirm.



On September 7, 1979, defendant was charged by indictment with the murders of Elizabeth West and Ruth Ann Jany. At a hearing on October 24, 1979, defendant waived his right to a trial by a jury, in exchange for the State's waiving its plea for a death sentence. At the hearing, defendant's counsel indicated that defendant was entering his plea as provided by North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 27 L. Ed. 2d 162, 91 S. Ct. 160 (1970), and that defendant indicated a willingness to plead guilty but a nonwillingness to concede facts admitting his guilt. Defendant's counsel stated, "[Defendant], in effect, is pleading guilty[-] desires to plead guilty." Defendant agreed with his counsel's statement, and the trial court admonished defendant as required by Supreme Court Rule 402 (158 Ill. 2d R. 402) for a criminal defendant who pleads guilty.

Thereafter, the State presented a factual basis for defendant's guilty plea, including the testimony of deputy sheriff Robert Miller, who described defendant's confessions to the abductions and murders of Elizabeth West and Ruth Ann Jany. The State presented evidence corroborating defendant's confession to the murder of Elizabeth West: Elizabeth disappeared at approximately 11:15 p.m. on April 22, 1978, after walking home from a play at Belleville Township High School West; when Elizabeth's body was discovered, it was lying face down in a wooded creek and it was fully clothed, except for a missing bra strap; and Elizabeth had been sexually assaulted, struck twice on the head with a blunt object, and then strangled to death. The State also presented evidence that, on the night of Elizabeth's disappearance, Judy Barnum had refused defendant's invitation to attend a play at either Belleville Township High School West or the Muny Opera.

Likewise, the State presented evidence corroborating defendant's confession to the murder of Ruth Ann Jany: Ruth Ann was abducted on July 7, 1978, at approximately 11:30 p.m. from a First National Bank automated teller machine located in downtown Belleville; at the time of her disappearance Ruth Ann did not have her purse in her possession; after Ruth Ann disappeared, a number of successful and unsuccessful attempts were made to withdraw money from her checking account via her automated teller machine card and a total of $330 was successfully withdrawn; and when Ruth Ann's body was discovered in a rural area south of Belleville, approximately 20 feet from a farmer's road and 400 feet from the county line, it was not buried, was fully dressed, and had around the neck a halter top with a knot. The State further produced evidence that both defendant and Ruth Ann had accounts with, and automated teller machine cards for, the First National Bank of Belleville and that, at the time of Ruth Ann's disappearance, defendant was spending an unusual abundance of cash. Defendant's corroborated admissions regarding the murder of Ruth Ann and the location of her body were made prior to the discovery of her body.

The trial court concluded that defendant was entering his plea voluntarily, after having knowingly and understandingly waived his rights, and that a factual basis existed for the plea. Defendant was sentenced on November 30, 1979, to two concurrent terms of natural-life imprisonment.

On January 7, 1980, the trial court denied defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Defendant appealed his sentence only, and in an order entered pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 23 (73 Ill. 2d R. 23), on February 25, 1982, this court affirmed defendant's sentences. People v. Bowman, 103 Ill. App. 3d 1207 (1982) (unpublished Rule 23 order).

On June 3, 1999, almost 20 years later, defendant filed a petition under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 1998)). Defendant alleged that his statements to deputy sheriff Robert Miller were involuntary because defendant had recently learned from an article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Deputy Miller and Danny Stark had contrived a scheme to acquire defendant's confession, thereby creating circumstances bespeaking fraud, trickery, deceit, and coercion and that, thus, they had violated defendant's constitutional rights.

On November 28, 2000, at the post-conviction hearing held before the Honorable Richard Aguirre, the following evidence was adduced.

Defendant testified that while he was incarcerated in the county jail, after his sentencing in an unrelated case and while awaiting his return to Menard Correctional Center (Menard), in which he had previously spent four years, defendant met Danny Stark, a cellblock mate. Defendant stated that he revealed to Stark that defendant was terrified of returning to Menard and that Stark thereafter orchestrated a plan to bond out of jail, return to jail, and help defendant escape. Defendant testified that in order to circumvent the weekly transfers to Menard until Stark returned to free defendant, he threw himself from the top bunk of the cell and was taken to the hospital. Defendant testified that he thereafter accepted Stark's suggestion that defendant make a statement regarding the Elizabeth West and Ruth Ann Jany murders, about which defendant previously had been questioned after his arrest in the unrelated case. According to the escape scheme, defendant could remain in the county jail while the police investigated his statements, avoiding a transfer to Menard, until Stark was released and could return to free defendant. Defendant explained that his attorney had provided him with newspaper articles and police reports and that police officers had, while questioning defendant previously concerning the murders, also revealed police reports to defendant. Defendant testified that from this information, he and Stark created "a believable story." Defendant testified that he never believed that his statements would be used against him because he had an alibi during the murders and he understood that the investigators had corroborated the alibi.

Defendant testified that after he requested to speak with an investigator, deputy sheriff Robert Miller arrived to interview him. Defendant stated that during the interrogations, Deputy Miller suggested the answers to the questions he had asked defendant. Defendant told Deputy Miller that he would provide a written statement on the following Sunday, the day after the day defendant expected to escape with Stark. Stark was released, but on Sunday, after Stark failed to appear at the jail on Saturday, defendant recanted his confession. Defendant stated that he had been unaware of the collusion between Deputy Miller and Stark until the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an article stating that Deputy Miller had admitted tricking defendant into confessing by recruiting Stark to convince defendant that Stark would assist in defendant's escape and keep defendant from returning to Menard.

Carolyn Tuft, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigative reporter, testified that she had interviewed Deputy Miller in February 1999. Tuft stated that during the interview, Deputy Miller indicated that he had placed Stark, a "con artist," in a cell with defendant and had told Stark to convince defendant that if defendant discussed the murders, defendant would avoid a transfer to Menard and stay in the county jail long enough for Stark to be released from jail, to return, and to assist in defendant's escape.

Bill Smith, also a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter, accompanied Tuft during her interview with Deputy Miller. He testified that during the interview Deputy Miller had referred to his knowledge of defendant's fear of returning to Menard. Smith testified that during the interview with Deputy Miller, Deputy Miller had conveyed the idea that it was his plan to obtain information from defendant through the escape scheme.

Danny Stark testified that prior to the underlying incident, he had worked as an informant for Deputy Miller. Stark testified that Deputy Miller did not place him in defendant's cellblock with the intent of promoting the escape scheme to obtain defendant's confession. Stark stated that while he was in the cellblock with defendant, defendant indicated his involvement with the disappearances of Ruth Ann Jany and Elizabeth West. Stark stated that because it was the right thing to do, he notified Deputy Miller that defendant was implicating himself in the murders. He testified that Deputy Miller told Stark to keep his ears open.

Stark explained that he and defendant, not Deputy Miller, concocted the escape plan and that it was common for inmates to discuss escaping. Stark testified that he had not reviewed information from the newspapers and had not discussed with defendant how to obtain additional information about the murders. Stark admitted, however, that he utilized defendant's intense fear of returning to ...

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