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People v. Crespo

March 31, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman

Docket No. 86556-Agenda 9-November 1999.

Defendant, Hector Crespo, was convicted of the first degree murder of Maria Garcia in a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County. The jury also convicted him of one count of armed violence, one count of aggravated battery based on intentionally or knowingly causing great bodily harm, and one count of aggravated battery using a deadly weapon, all in connection with the stabbing of Garcia's daughter, Arlene. The circuit court sentenced defendant to a 75-year term of imprisonment for the murder and to a 30-year term for armed violence. The court also imposed a five-year term for aggravated battery after stating that the two aggravated batteries were merged. All of the prison terms were to be served concurrently.

Defendant appealed his convictions. He maintained that his conviction for aggravated battery could not stand because it was based on the same single act as the armed violence charge. He also argued that the trial court erred in refusing to give the jury an instruction on second degree murder. The appellate court affirmed defendant's convictions and ordered the circuit clerk to amend the mittimus to reflect that defendant was convicted of first degree murder, armed violence, and one count of aggravated battery. No. 1-97-3057 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). Defendant filed a petition for leave to appeal, arguing only that his conviction for aggravated battery should be vacated because it stemmed from the same physical act as the armed violence charge. We allowed defendant's petition (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)) and now reverse, in part, the judgment of the appellate court.


The facts giving rise to defendant's convictions are not in dispute. Defendant and the murder victim, Maria Garcia, lived together with their infant son and Garcia's daughters. On June 25, 1995, defendant, after consuming alcohol and cocaine throughout the day, returned home at around 9:15 p.m. According to Garcia's daughter, Arlene, shortly after defendant's arrival home, he and her mother began to argue over money and the fact that defendant was wearing a gold necklace that belonged to Garcia. As the argument intensified, Garcia asked defendant to leave the house. Defendant refused, and Garcia told Arlene to call the police. Arlene called 911 and told the dispatcher that she wanted her stepfather escorted from the home because he was getting violent. After the 911 call was made, defendant locked himself in a bedroom.

Defendant eventually began to leave the house through a back door. At that time, Garcia told him "don't leave you coward." Garcia told defendant that she wanted police to "escort him out." Defendant replied that he was not afraid of police and that he was not "a coward." The two then argued more, and moved into the kitchen near some drawers. Defendant attempted to reach into a drawer where knives were kept, but Garcia closed it. A few minutes later, defendant pulled out a knife about eight inches long. Garcia again tried to shut the drawer, but defendant hit her in the head with his fist. The two began to fight. When Arlene tried to intercede, defendant stabbed her three times in rapid succession., once in the right arm, and twice in the left thigh. After defendant stabbed Arlene, defendant turned to Garcia and grabbed her by the hair. He then stabbed her. As defendant stabbed Garcia, Arlene ran out of the house, calling for help.

According to neighbors, Arlene ran from her house screaming for help. Police officers responded to the scene and found Arlene hysterical. She told them that her stepfather had stabbed her and that her mother and younger brother were still in the house. Police found Garcia lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. Witnesses told police that defendant had fled the scene.

Garcia died as a result of the injuries inflicted by defendant. The autopsy revealed that she had sustained multiple stab wounds to the neck, chest, and abdomen. Arlene was treated for her wounds at the hospital, where approximately 20 staples were needed to close the three stab wounds.

Police arrested defendant in July 1995, and a grand jury returned an indictment against him several weeks later. Specifically, the indictment charged defendant with two counts of first degree murder, one count of attempted first degree murder, two counts of aggravated battery (one count based on battery with a deadly weapon, and one count based on great bodily harm), and one count of armed violence. The armed violence charge was predicated upon the great bodily harm aggravated battery charge. Defendant was also indicted on one count of theft, which the State later agreed to nol-pros. The jury returned verdicts finding defendant (i) guilty of first degree murder, (ii) guilty of armed violence, (iii) guilty of aggravated battery based on great bodily harm, (iv) guilty of aggravated battery based on a deadly weapon, and (v) not guilty of attempted murder.

As noted previously, defendant maintained in the appellate court that his aggravated battery conviction must be vacated because it was based on the same physical act as his armed violence conviction, or, alternatively, that the mittimus, which reflected two aggravated battery convictions, should be corrected to reflect the fact that the trial court merged defendant's two aggravated battery convictions into one aggravated battery conviction. The appellate court rejected defendant's "same physical act" argument, but amended the mittimus to reflect one, as opposed to two, aggravated battery convictions. *fn1


Defendant maintains that the remaining aggravated battery conviction must be vacated because the aggravated battery charge stemmed from the same physical act which formed the basis of the armed violence charge. According to defendant, the three stab wounds to Arlene did not constitute "different offenses" such that multiple convictions can be sustained.

The State responds that the appellate court, in rejecting defendant's contention, properly applied the precedent of this court. The State maintains that defendant stabbed Arlene three times and that each act of stabbing properly constitutes a separate offense. As framed by the State, the issue before this court is whether these three different stabbings were three "separate and distinct acts" each capable of independently sustaining a complete criminal conviction.

The seminal case in this area is People v. King, 66 Ill. 2d 551 (1977). There, this court explained:

"Prejudice results to the defendant only in those instances where more than one offense is carved from the same physical act. Prejudice, with regard to multiple acts, exists only when the defendant is convicted of more than one offense, some of which are, by definition, lesser included offenses. Multiple convictions and concurrent sentences should be permitted in all other cases where a defendant has committed several acts, despite the interrelationship of those acts. `Act,' when used in this sense, is intended to mean any overt or outward manifestation which will support a different offense. We hold, therefore, that when more than one offense arises from a series of incidental or closely related acts and the offenses are not, by definition, lesser included offenses, convictions with concurrent sentences can be entered." King, 66 Ill. 2d at 566.

Based on this reasoning, the court in King upheld the defendant's convictions for rape and burglary because the offenses were based on separate acts, each ...

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