Appeal from Circuit Court of Ford County No. 98CF8 Honorable Donald D. Bernardi, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann
In January 2001, defendant, Angela M. Little, pro se filed a petition for post-conviction relief under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Act) (725 ILCS 5/122-1 through 122-8 (West 2000)), alleging, inter alia, that (1) her trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to conduct a survey concerning the effect of pretrial publicity to support defendant's motion to change venue; and (2) her appellate counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to argue that the trial court erred by denying her motion to change venue. In April 2001, the trial court dismissed defendant's post-conviction petition under section 122-2.1 of the Act, upon finding that it was untimely filed (725 ILCS 5/122-2.1 (West 2000)).
Defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court (1) erred by dismissing her post-conviction petition, and (2) lacked the authority to order that her Department of Corrections (DOC) wages be withheld and remitted to the circuit clerk. We affirm.
In January 1998, defendant's estranged husband, Craig Little, was murdered by 15-year-old Anthony Jennings, who was accompanied by Carl Dueringer, defendant's boyfriend, pursuant to a plan between defendant, Dueringer, and Jennings. In February 1998, the State charged defendant with first degree murder (count I) (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West Supp. 1997)) and solicitation of murder for hire (count II) (720 ILCS 5/8-1.2(a) (West 1998)). Prior to defendant's trial, the State dismissed count II.
In June 1998, defendant filed a motion to change venue due to pretrial publicity in Ford County. In July 1998, the State filed a response to defendant's motion. In September 1998, the trial court denied defendant's motion to change venue, stating as follows:
"I've had the opportunity to review the motion for change of venue, which has attached to it numerous news articles from the Bloomington paper, the Paxton paper ***. Gibson City is in here. It looks like Champaign as well. *** And the gist of the motion is that this publicity has made it or will make it impossible to find a jury panel who could fairly try the issues in this case. And the size of Ford County makes jury selection problematic with a high[-]profile case. There is no doubt about that. And it becomes, in my view, more difficult.
I would acknowledge today that it would be more difficult in Ford County to pick a jury than it would up in Morris in Grundy County. Now, that's not a reason to change venue. The only reason that we change venue is because a [c]court finds, based upon pretrial publicity, that the population in Ford County is so prejudiced against the defendant that we will not be able to pick a fair and impartial jury. I believe it is a difficult standard to meet and one which without some sophisticated surveys *** is very difficult to meet. And the information provided in the motion does not establish in my view that the community is prejudiced. It simply establishes that there is quite a bit of publicity; and to those who have read every single article, they may have formed some opinions. Jurors may be selected and sworn to hear a case that they are familiar with from the newspapers if they can set it aside. It's a standard question. That's the way we pick juries all the time.
And in the final analysis, the test for whether or not venue ought to remain here or be moved occurs at jury selection, and change of venue motions are never over until the jury is selected. And so if it turns out to be a difficult proposition or an impossible one in selecting [a] jury, I believe that that can always be revisited, at least until jurors are sworn it can be. But to make a finding that I must change venue [because] the population is prejudiced against the defendant, I cannot based upon the evidence that the parties have submitted th[u]s far. So the motion for change is denied." (Emphases added.)
During voir dire, the trial court questioned 69 venire members. Of those, 36 had been exposed to pretrial publicity, and the court excused three venire members for cause because they had already formed opinions based on that publicity. Defendant did not renew her motion to change venue following jury selection.
Following her November 1998 trial, the jury convicted defendant of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West Supp. 1997)). The trial court later sentenced her to 56 years in prison. The court also ordered that (1) defendant pay $315 in court costs; and (2) the DOC withhold 50% of defendant's DOC wages and remit those funds to the Ford County circuit clerk to be applied toward the amounts due in costs.
On direct appeal, this court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence (People v. Little, No. 4-99-0145 (March 31, 2000) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23)). In July 2000, the Supreme Court of Illinois denied defendant's petition for leave to appeal (People v. Little, 189 Ill. 2d 695, 734 N.E.2d 896 (2000)).
As earlier stated, in January 2001, defendant pro se filed a post-conviction petition. In support of her petition, she attached several documents, including the following: (1) an affidavit, in which defendant averred that her family members overheard jurors complaining because they were not allowed to sentence defendant; (2) the affidavit of Randy Berger, in which he averred that Darrell Rickey had told him that (a) juror 218 had made some "prejudice [sic] remarks" about defendant before trial, and (b) Rickey and juror 218 had discussed defendant's poor work attendance record; and (3) 15 newspaper articles regarding the incident and the trial ...