The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman
Docket No. 87958-Agenda 3-September 2001.
Following a bench trial in the circuit court of Cook County, defendant, Corey Moore, was convicted of the first degree murder and the aggravated unlawful restraint of Kimberly Fort. See 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a), 10-3.1 (West 1996). At a separate sentencing hearing, the court found defendant eligible for the death penalty and further determined that there were no mitigating circumstances sufficient to preclude imposition of that sentence. Accordingly, the trial court sentenced defendant to death.
Defendant prepared a pro se motion for the appointment of counsel other than the public defender. The motion contained a number of allegations of trial counsel's ineffectiveness. At the posttrial hearing, the trial court refused to consider defendant's pro se motion.
Defendant's death sentence has been stayed pending direct review by this court. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §4(b); 134 Ill. 2d Rs. 603, 609(a). Subsequent to the filing of defendant's appeal, then-governor George Ryan commuted defendant's death sentence to natural life without possibility of parole or mandatory supervised release.
An appellate issue is moot when it is abstract or presents no controversy. People v. Blaylock, 202 Ill. 2d 319, 325 (2002). An issue can become moot if circumstances change during the pendency of an appeal that prevent the reviewing court from being able to render effectual relief. People v. Jackson, 199 Ill. 2d 286, 294 (2002). Commutation removes a judicially imposed sentence and replaces it with a lesser, executively imposed sentence. People ex rel. Johnson v. Murphy, 257 Ill. 564, 566 (1913); Black's Law Dictionary 274 (7th ed. 1999).
Therefore, the commutation rendered defendant's sentencing issues moot. See, e.g., Lewis v. Commonwealth, 218 Va. 31, 38, 235 S.E.2d 320, 325 (1977); State v. Mitchell, 239 Or. 87, 88, 396 P.2d 572, 573 (1964). *fn1 We exercise our discretion to address the nonsentencing issues in this case. See, e.g., McGill v. Illinois Power Co., 18 Ill. 2d 242, 244 (1959). Addressing only one nonsentencing issue, we now remand the cause to the trial court with instruction to conduct an appropriate inquiry into defendant's pro se post-trial motion.
The record contains the following pertinent and uncontested facts. Defendant was indicted in Cook County in two separate cases. In case No. 97-CR-1779, the charges arose from the September 3, 1996, fatal shooting and armed robbery of Lonnie Williams and the attempted shooting of Melanie Williams. In the case before us, No. 97-CR-1780, the charges arose from the November 21, 1996, shooting of Kimberly Fort.
Defendant waived a jury for both the guilt phase and the death sentencing hearing in each case. The court conducted separate bench trials to determine defendant's guilt.
The State's case in No. 97-CR-1779 included the following evidence. Melanie Williams and Lonnie Williams were business partners in an ice cream store in Chicago. On September 3, 1996, Lonnie and Melanie closed the store; Lonnie took with him a bag containing money from the store's sales for the week. They lived in the second-floor apartment of a two-flat building in Chicago. They arrived home at approximately 10:25 p.m. Melanie followed Lonnie toward the front porch. Defendant, a former employee, grabbed Melanie and put a handgun to her head. Defendant told her to be quiet.
Near the top of an inner stairway, Lonnie became aware of defendant's presence and turned to face him. Lonnie pulled Melanie behind him. Defendant demanded money. Lonnie handed defendant the money from the store. Defendant then said, "You all shouldn't have done me like you did." Melanie then heard the gun discharge. Melanie ran inside her apartment, with defendant in close pursuit. Facing defendant, who was aiming the gun at her, Melanie backed up to a couch and fell on it. Defendant pulled the trigger three times, but the gun failed to discharge. Defendant turned and ran out of the apartment. Lonnie died from a gunshot wound to the face.
In the case before us, No. 97-CR-1780, the State's evidence against defendant, which included his statement to police, was as follows. Fort was defendant's girlfriend and they lived together. Beginning on the night of the Lonnie Williams shooting, law enforcement officials spoke with Fort regarding defendant's whereabouts. She cooperated with police and gave them another possible address for defendant and a photograph of him.
On November 21, 1996, at approximately 9 a.m., defendant returned to the house he shared with Fort. He was armed with a 12-gauge, double-barreled, sawed-off shotgun concealed under his coat. Defendant was armed that day because he had killed Lonnie Williams and people were trying to kill defendant in retaliation. He tried to open the door with his key, but Fort had changed the locks.
While defendant was breaking into the house, Fort escaped and ran down the street. Defendant chased and eventually caught Fort. He pulled her down the street toward the house. Defendant reasoned that Fort was afraid of him because she had told police about Lonnie Williams' murder. When they were near, defendant ordered her to walk down a side gangway and enter the house. While Fort was about 10 feet in front of defendant, he shot her in the back, firing both barrels. Fort died from the shotgun blast.
At the close of the bench trial in this case, the court convicted defendant of the first degree murder and the aggravated unlawful restraint of Fort. Regarding the Williams shooting, the court convicted defendant of the first degree murder and armed robbery of Lonnie Williams and the attempted murder of Melanie Williams.
The trial court then held a joint death sentencing hearing. In this case, the court concluded that defendant was eligible for the death penalty, finding the presence of two statutory aggravating factors: defendant was convicted of murdering two or more individuals; and defendant murdered Fort with the intent to prevent her from testifying in a criminal prosecution or giving material assistance to the State. See 720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(3), (b)(8) ...