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People v. Watson

April 28, 2003


No. 90 CR 5546 Honorable Michael P. Toomin, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice James F. Smith


Following a bench trial, defendant, Vernon Watson, was found guilty of two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault and one count of aggravated kidnapping. Prior to sentencing, the State petitioned the court to conduct an habitual criminal hearing pursuant to 720 ILCS 5/33B (West 1998). A hearing was conducted accordingly, after which defendant was declared an habitual criminal, and sentenced to natural life in prison. From his conviction and sentence, defendant now appeals.

Factual Background

Procedural History

The sexual assault in this case took place on May 15, 1989. The victim, Colleen Arnier, was unable to see her attacker's face, nor could she identify him from a line-up or a voice line-up. DNA samples were obtained from the victim, defendant, and the victim's husband, Jeffrey, and sent to the FBI laboratory in Washington D.C. for testing, the results of which were questioned by defendant, who moved to exclude them from the evidence at trial.

A Frye hearing was held in 1991, after which the trial court ruled that while the methodology used in declaring a DNA match was generally accepted within the relevant scientific community, the procedures employed in calculating the statistical probability of a match, known as the product rule, were not. The court accordingly granted defendant's motion to exclude the results of the DNA testing.

The People took an appeal, and on January 28, 1994, this court vacated the trial court's ruling, directing it to consider an alternative method of calculating the statistical significance of a match, known as the "ceiling principle," and to make a determination with respect to its acceptance in the relevant scientific community. People v. Watson, 257 Ill. App. 3d 915 (1994).

The People filed a petition for leave to appeal, which was denied on October 6, 1994. People v. Watson, 157 Ill. 2d 519 (1994). The People then filed a motion to reconsider that denial, and a motion to consolidate the case with another case, Franson v. Micelli, 172 Ill. 2d 352 (1996), then pending before the Illinois Supreme Court. The Court denied the motion to consolidate, but vacated its October 6, 1994 order and continued the matter on its docket. People v. Watson, 650 N.E.2d 1037 (1995). Eventually, the Court denied the petition for leave to appeal. People v. Watson, 168 Ill. 2d 621 (1996). The mandate was issued, and the case returned to the trial court. On remand, the trial court granted the State's motion to reconsider the necessity of holding a second Frye hearing, in light of two recent supreme court decisions on the acceptability of the product rule. The court ruled that a second Frye hearing was unnecessary, and trial at last commenced.

The evidence presented at trial was as follows.

The Sexual Assault

In 1989, the victim was 24 years old, and lived at 9200 S. Oakley in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago, with her husband, Jeff. At the time, the victim worked as a legal secretary in the Chicago Loop area, and commuted to her job via the Metra line. At approximately 7:20 a.m. on May 29, 1989, the victim began the walk from her home to the train station at 99th Street. She recalled that the day was warm and sunny. She listened to a Sony Walkman as she proceeded.

As she approached the corner of 91st and Winchester, the victim saw a black male approximately four to five houses down Winchester, wearing a blue jogging suit and a gray hat. The man was jogging towards her.

She crossed at the intersection of 91st and Winchester, and continued onto a cement footpath to the station, that ran through the Dan Ryan Woods. The area was well lit. When she was approximately halfway down the footpath, the victim was suddenly grabbed from behind around her shoulders, and pulled backwards as a hand was placed over her mouth. She noticed that her attacker's hand was black, and that he was wearing a dark blue nylon jogging jacket, with two red stripes down the sleeves.

The attacker told the victim that he had a pistol and would kill her if she screamed. He forcefully pushed her into the woods, away from the cement path and down a dirt path, from behind. She felt something hard on her back, that she thought was a gun. Though she could not see her attacker's face, the victim sensed that he was a bit taller than her 5'4". As they went down the trail, he repeated several times that he would kill her if she screamed.

They traveled approximately 100 feet off the cement footpath and then stopped in a small clearing. Remaining behind her, the attacker removed his hands from the victim's mouth and demanded money. She gave him the money she had in her purse. He then demanded her jewelry, so she handed over her wedding bands and a ruby ring, along with her watch. The attacker pulled at the pearl necklace that was around her neck, causing it to break and the pearls to scatter.

The victim was then commanded to take off her clothes and to place them into a blue tote bag she had been carrying. She undressed and placed her clothes in the bag as instructed. The attacker took from the victim the sweater that she had been wearing and, after pushing her down onto her back, he placed the sweater over her face, and proceeded to have sexual intercourse with her. After he ejaculated, the attacker stood up. He told the victim to wait ten minutes before rising, and warned that if she did not, he would return and kill her.

The victim waited just two to three minutes before getting up to find her clothes. The attacker at that point had disappeared. She wiped her vaginal area with her bra, which she did not put on, then donned her pants and sweater, and looked around for the rest of her belongings. She did not see her purse, her Walkman, her keys or her credit cards; the papers from her briefcase were strewn about. The victim left the scene as it was, for the police to find, and ran out of the woods.

She ran to a home at the corner of 91st and Pleasant Streets, though she did not know who lived there. Her knock on the front door was answered by Mrs. Martin, who took her in and called 911. The victim called her husband and her sister, then asked for permission to take a shower, which was granted. Following her shower, the victim dressed and went downstairs, where the police had just arrived. She spoke to the officers and told them that her attacker was black, between twenty and thirty years old, and approximately 5'7", and 140 lbs. She also related that he had been wearing a dark blue nylon sweat jacket, with two red stripes going down the outer sleeves, and a gray knit cap.

The victim was taken to the emergency department of Little Company of Mary Hospital, where she underwent a physical examination and testing. She was also questioned in greater detail about the attack by a detective, to whom she gave the same physical description of her attacker as she had given earlier.

Four days later, on May 29, 1989, the victim received a phone-call from the detectives in this case, during which she was asked to come to the police station to view a line-up. She went, and although she got an "extremely bad feeling" when she saw defendant in the line-up, and noted that he was of the same height and build as her attacker, she could not positively identify him, not having seen his face. She was also asked to participate in a voice line-up, but did not recognize the defendant's voice, and instead mistakenly identified a Chicago Police Officer as being the voice of her attacker. She was very nervous at the time.

Pursuant to a police request, on July 7, 1989, the victim went back to Little Company of Mary Hospital to provide samples of her blood and saliva for testing and comparison. Later that month, the victim's husband, Jeff, submitted samples of his blood an saliva as well.

William McGlynn testified that he is an attorney, and does criminal defense work in a private law firm. Prior to that, he was a Cook County Assistant State's Attorney, and an Assistant Attorney General, prior to which he was a Chicago Police Officer for ten years.

In May 1989, McGlynn lived at 9100 S. Winchester, in the city of Chicago. On May 25, 1989, at approximately 7:30 a.m., McGlynn was waiting for his daughter to finish getting ready, so that he could drive her downtown to work. He was standing near his front door, looking outside into the street. McGlynn noticed a young man jogging down the middle of the street past him. This individual was black, and wore a gray skull cap and a blue jogging suit with red stripes on it. This person caught McGlynn's attention in particular because May 25 was a very warm day, and this individual, though jogging in warm clothing, did not appear to be suffering from the heat. The person ran to within 30 feet of McGlynn.

McGlynn later drove his daughter downtown, and made a court appearance. He was returning home in the early afternoon, when he noticed a commotion involving the police. He saw Detective Bill Egan, whom he knew from his time with the Chicago Police, and asked Det. Egan what was going on. Det. Egan informed McGlynn that a girl had been attacked in the woods, and he gave to McGlynn a description of the individual they were looking for. McGlynn told him that he'd seen a person fitting that description, and that he felt confident that he could identify that person from a line-up.

McGlynn was subsequently shown a photo array, which included a picture of defendant that had been taken 15 years earlier. From that array, McGlynn failed to identify defendant. He was later shown a photo array with a current picture of defendant, and from that array, identified defendant as the individual he had seen on the morning of May 25. McGlynn additionally identified defendant from a line-up at the police station on May 29 as the same individual he had seen running past his house on the day of the attack.

Officer Rodney Schmitt testified that he responded to a call on the morning of May 25, 1989, pursuant to which he went to the home of Mrs. Martin. There, Officer Schmitt spoke to Colleen, after which he sent out a flash message for the offender, identifying him as a male black, approximately 20-30 years of age, 5'7" tall, 140 lbs. and wearing a gray skull cap and a dark blue jogging suit with red stripes going down the side.

Detective William Egan testified that on May 25, 1989, at approximately 9:30 a.m., he was assigned to investigate a criminal sexual assault. Pursuant to that assignment, he went to Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, where he met with Officer Schmitt, and then the victim. The victim gave to Det. Egan a description of her attacker. He received the victim's clothing, which included a bra, pants, a sweater and a pair of tennis shoes from ...

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