Appeal from the Circuit Court of Montgomery County. No. 01-CF-186 Honorable John W. McGuire, Judge, presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Chapman
After a February 2002 bench trial, the defendant, William R. Terrell, was convicted of one count of solicitation of murder (720 ILCS 5/8-1.1(a) (West 2000)). The defendant appeals, arguing that his request that his girlfriend's stepfather, Larry Wilkins, drive him and his intended victim to the place where he planned to murder her did not fit within the statutory definition of solicitation of murder. We reverse.
Wilkins became acquainted with the defendant while the defendant was dating Wilkins' stepdaughter, Jewel Cooper. In August and September 2001, when the events leading to the charges against the defendant took place, Wilkins, his wife, and three of his children from a prior marriage were temporarily residing with Cooper in her home. Both Wilkins and the defendant met the intended victim, Leslie Harp, when Wilkins' son, Edward Kampmon, brought her to Cooper's home after befriending her at a Hardee's restaurant. Kampmon is mentally disabled, and it appeared to Wilkins that Harp was also mentally disabled. Cooper and the defendant had argued that day. The defendant began talking to Harp and later asked Wilkins to drive him and Harp to rural property Wilkins owned in Sawyerville, Illinois, where the two spent the night in an abandoned car. Wilkins returned to the property the following morning to drive Harp and the defendant home. After they dropped Harp off at her home, the defendant confided to Wilkins that he had a sexual relationship with Harp and asked Wilkins not to tell Cooper about it.
Approximately three to four weeks later, Harp returned to Cooper's home and informed Wilkins and his wife, Linda, that she was pregnant by the defendant. Linda Wilkins told Cooper that Harp claimed to be pregnant with the defendant's child, and Cooper confronted the defendant about it. He denied having been involved with Harp. Sometime thereafter, however, the defendant confided to Wilkins that he planned to kill Harp in order to prevent Cooper from discovering his relationship with her.
Initially, the defendant told Wilkins that he intended to ask his sister to kick Harp in the stomach to kill the baby and then he intended to get her drunk and give her capsule pills filled with boric acid. He intended to kill her at Wilkins' Sawyerville property and dump her body in a well. Because the defendant has no car or driver's license, he asked Wilkins to drive him and Harp to the property. Wilkins told the defendant that he would help him, but instead he informed the police of his conversation with the defendant.
The defendant later informed Wilkins that he had found a different location in which to kill Harp, a location that he thought would be more appropriate. Although he did not tell Wilkins where the location was, he again asked him to assist by picking up Harp in his car. Wilkins again contacted the police and reported what had transpired. He agreed to record any further discussions with the defendant.
On September 26, 2001, Wilkins visited the defendant at his home, where the defendant showed him a hatchet, some rope, and a steel bar. He told Wilkins that he intended to hit Harp in the head with the steel bar and use the hatchet to either cut her throat or chop her up. At the defendant's request, Wilkins drove him to buy a shovel and then drove him to an abandoned house outside of Litchfield, Illinois, where the defendant intended to kill Harp. Inside the house, the defendant used the shovel to dig a grave for Harp in the dirt floor. The shovel broke and Wilkins drove the defendant to Wal-Mart to buy another shovel and then drove him back to the house, where he dug a second hole in which he planned to bury Harp. The defendant asked Wilkins to drive him and Harp to the site two days later. He did not ask Wilkins to be present during the murder or assist in any way beyond driving him and Harp to the abandoned house.
The following day, the State charged the defendant by information with one count of attempt (first-degree murder) (720 ILCS 5/8-4(a), 9-1(a)(1) (West 2000)) and one count of solicitation of murder (720 ILCS 5/8-1.1(a) (West 2000)). On February 22, 2002, the defendant was tried in a bench trial. The court took the matter under advisement and, on March 1, 2002, found the defendant not guilty of attempt (first-degree murder) but found him guilty of solicitation of murder. On April 19, 2002, the trial court sentenced the defendant to 18 years in the Department of Corrections. On May 17, 2002, the court denied the defendant's motion to reduce his sentence. This appeal followed.
The defendant argues that the State failed to prove him guilty of solicitation of murder beyond a reasonable doubt because he did not request, encourage, or command Wilkins to commit the murder; rather, he argues that he intended to kill Harp himself and that he asked Wilkins only to drive him and Harp to the site where he planned to kill her. We agree.
In order to sustain a conviction for solicitation of murder, the State must prove that the defendant (1) intended that the offense of first-degree murder be committed and (2) commanded, encouraged, or requested another person to commit the murder. 720 ILCS 5/8-1.1(a) (West 2000). We review challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution to determine whether any reasonable trier of fact could find the essential elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. People v. Collins, 106 Ill. 2d 237, 261, 478 N.E.2d 267, 277 (1985). Although couched in terms of the sufficiency of the evidence, the defendant's argument really goes to the definition of the words "to commit" in the solicitation statute. We review questions of statutory construction de novo. People v. Glisson, 202 Ill. 2d 499, 504, 782 N.E.2d 251, 254 (2002).
The solicitation statute in Illinois provides, "A person commits solicitation of murder when, with the intent that the offense of first[-]degree murder be committed, he commands, encourages[,] or requests another to commit that offense." (Emphasis added.) 720 ILCS 5/8-1.1(a) (West 2000). The defendant contends that requesting another person to assist him in committing a murder by driving him and the intended victim to the site where he planned to kill her himself does not fall within this statutory definition. The State, by contrast, contends that because the act that the defendant requested Wilkins to perform ...