Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 98 CR 5117 Honorable Bertina E. Lampkin, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Reid
Following a jury trial, which was part of three simultaneous separate juries, the defendant, Ruben Alvarez, was found guilty of first degree murder and was sentenced to serve 80 years' imprisonment. On appeal, Alvarez maintains that: (1) he was denied his due process right to fundamental fairness and his sixth amendment right to present a defense as a result of the trial court's decision not to admit certain evidence about the police investigation concerning different suspects, (2) he was denied a fair trial by the admission of improper hearsay, (3) he was denied a fair trial due to the admission of evidence that showed that he had a propensity to commit crimes, (4) he was denied a fair trial as a result of the State eliciting an inordinate amount of irrelevant and prejudicial gang-related evidence, (5) he was denied a fair trial due to the admission of evidence concerning weapons that were not connected to the crime, (6) he was denied a fair trial because the State made improper statements during its closing argument, and (7) his extended-term sentence of 80 years, which was based on a finding by the trial court (as opposed to the jury) that the crime was accompanied by exceptionally brutal and heinous conduct, is excessive and improper. For the reasons that follow, we affirm Alvarez's conviction and vacate his extended-term sentence.
On the evening of December 29, 1997, Arnold Mireles was walking home from work. As he was walking, someone approached Mireles from behind and shot him once in the back of his head. Mireles died as a result of his wound.
Mireles was a community activist who worked at the Juan Diego Community Center, which is located at 8802 South Exchange Avenue, in Chicago, Illinois. Part of Mireles' responsibilities was to take photographs of dilapidated buildings and make reports to housing court in an effort to have the buildings' owners make needed repairs to the properties. Mireles' reports often cited co-defendant Roel Salinas.
Salinas was the owner of a number of buildings that Mireles investigated. Mireles' efforts caused Salinas to have to appear in housing court on many occasions. This resulted in Salinas being forced to pay numerous fines and other monies and serve jail time in an effort to have his buildings brought into compliance with city codes.
A particular Salinas building that Mireles caused to be investigated was located at 8822 South Exchange Avenue. Salinas eventually deeded this building to co-defendant Miguel Martinez. After Martinez became the owner of the building, he, too, was then forced to appear in housing court as a result of the building's violations. Alvarez, who was a close friend of Martinez, lived with Martinez at 8822 South Exchange Avenue.
At trial, Donald Rowans testified that on the evening of December 29, 1997, he was at the home of his friend, Michael Quiroz, which was located at 8812 South Exchange Avenue. While there, Rowans heard a gunshot at approximately 11 p.m. Sometime later, he and Quiroz decided to walk to a store that was located on the corner of 89th Street and Exchange Avenue. While in route to the store, Rowans discovered Mireles' dead body lying on the ground. Rowans and Quiroz notified the police.
Later that evening, Rowans and his girlfriend went to the Taste of Commercial, which is a neighborhood restaurant. There, he saw Alvarez and Martinez, who were together. Rowans told them that someone had been shot and that he had just found the dead person's body. Afterwards, Martinez, who was driving, gave Rowans and his girlfriend a ride to Rowans' home. Rowans lived at 8842 South Exchange Avenue, which was located on the same block where Martinez lived. Later that night, Rowans also visited Martinez's home. While he was there, the police arrived and conducted interviews.
The next day, on December 30, 1997, at approximately 6 p.m., Rowans and Quiroz went to Martinez's home. While he was there, Alvarez asked Rowans to search his gangway for a shell casing. Later that same evening, Rowans informed Alvarez that he had heard the gunshot from the previous night and that it sounded like a .38- or .44-caliber gun. Alvarez responded that it was a 9-millimeter gun.
Alvarez explained to Rowans that he crept behind Mireles and shot him with his 9-millimeter plastic Glock handgun. Alvarez said that when Mireles fell to his knees, he ran away. Alvarez ran towards Rowans' house and saw that his gun had jammed. When he unjammed it, a shell casing fell but Alvarez did not have time to find it so he kept running.
On cross-examination, Rowans testified that he was picked up by the police on January 1, 1998, and was transported to Area Two where he was interrogated and also appeared in a lineup. During the interrogation he testified that he failed to inform the authorities that Alvarez had admitted to him that he had murdered Mireles. However, on redirect examination, Rowans testified that he did not tell the police about his conversation with Alvarez because he did not want to get involved. Rowans informed the authorities of Alvarez's admission after Alvarez had been arrested.
Crispin Uvalle testified that prior to December 1997, he had known Alvarez for approximately five months. Uvalle testified that he and Alvarez were friends and in the same gang. On January 1, 1998, he was sitting in a car in Cicero, Illinois, with Alvarez, Robert Espinoza and the young woman who owned the vehicle. At this time, Alvarez told him that he shot a man in the back of the head. Alvarez explained that he shot the man on the corner of 88th Street and Exchange Avenue. Uvalle testified that Alvarez said that "he ran up to him and shot him in the back and the guy fell to his knees and then to his face." Alvarez then ran through a gangway to Martinez's house. Uvalle testified that Alvarez said that he shot the man for money.
Detective John Murray testified that on January 4, 1998, he was assigned to assist with the Mireles' murder investigation. On the morning of January 14, 1998, Detective Murray along with his partner Detective Bob Rodriguez were attempting to locate Alvarez. They first went to Martinez's home at approximately 4 a.m. When they arrived, Martinez's wife, Erasema Martinez (Erasema), answered the door. She explained to the officers that Alvarez was not there but allowed the detectives to enter where they spoke with Martinez. Erasema and Martinez subsequently agreed to accompany the detectives to Area Two. After the detectives transported Erasema and Martinez to Area Two, they continued their attempt to locate Alvarez.
The detectives drove to a house that was located at 1803 South 61st Court in Cicero, Illinois. Upon arriving, Ronald Kulick answered the door and he gave the detectives permission to enter his home. Once inside, the detectives proceeded to the basement. There, they found Espinoza seated on a couch. After further searching, Detective Murray testified that he found Alvarez in a closet attempting to hide behind clothes. Alvarez was taken into custody. When the detectives continued their search of the basement, Detective Murray testified that he found a ".9 millimeter Glock semiautomatic pistol secreted behind a bar area behind a mirror."
Detective Murray testified that Alvarez was taken to Area Two where he was questioned by the detectives. Initially Alvarez denied having any participation in Mireles' murder. At this point, the detectives left Alvarez and spoke with Espinoza for approximately 45 minutes. When the detectives returned, they informed Alvarez that they had spoken to several people at the station who were his confidants and friends. They explained that the people had given them some specific information regarding Mireles' murder. After being told this, Detective Murray testified that Alvarez decided to give the detectives the following oral statement.
Alvarez informed the detectives that he was 17 years old. Alvarez said that during the first week in December 1997, he was working on the roof of a building at 88th Street and Houston Avenue, when he was approached by Salinas. Alvarez knew Salinas because Salinas had sold the building at 8822 South Exchange Avenue to Martinez. Salinas told Alvarez that he knew that Alvarez had access to guns and that he had a problem which he wanted Alvarez to take care of.
When Alvarez asked Salinas what the problem was, Salinas informed him that there was a fat guy by the name of Arnold who was continually having him fined and jailed for problems with his buildings. Salinas said that this was costing him a lot of money and that he wanted the problem stopped. Salinas then offered $10,000 for the head of Mireles. Detective Murray testified that he asked Alvarez what he thought Salinas meant by this statement. Alvarez replied that he took Salinas' statement to mean that Salinas would pay him $10,000 if he killed Mireles. When Alvarez told Salinas that he would think about it, Salinas countered that he would pay Alvarez the $10,000 if he committed the murder or arranged to have someone else commit the murder. Salinas further told Alvarez that he would be gone for three weeks around the Christmas holiday and that he would pay Alvarez when he returned if the job had been completed by that time. Alvarez explained that he knew that Arnold was Arnold Mireles, who ran the community center at the end of his block. Alvarez also stated that he knew Salinas was having a lot of problems with Mireles about his buildings.
Alvarez said that on the night of December 29, 1997, he was at home with Martinez when they agreed to go to the area of 51st Street and Maplewood Avenue for the purposes of committing robberies. The two exited Martinez's home and walked to Martinez's car, which was parked in the front. As the two sat in Martinez car waiting for it to warm up, Alvarez saw Mireles walking on Exchange Avenue. He then told Martinez to drive into the alley. Alvarez said that he was armed with a 9-millimeter Glock semiautomatic pistol and a snub nosed .38-caliber revolver.
Alvarez said that once Martinez drove into the alley, he told Martinez to drive behind his house and to stop. After Martinez did so, Alvarez told Martinez to stay there. Alvarez then exited the car and ran down the gangway of Martinez's residence. When he got to the front of the residence, Mireles had already passed by and was now close to 89th Street.
Alvarez said that he exited the gangway and ran up behind Mireles, cocking the .38 as he did so. As he got closer, Alvarez pointed the gun to the back of Mireles' head and fired one shot. Detective Murray testified that Alvarez stated that he saw blood fly from the back of Mireles' head and that Mireles dropped to his knees, then fell facedown in the snow. Alvarez then ran back to the alley and got into the car with Martinez and told Martinez to drive away.
Assistant State's Attorney (ASA) Thomas Mahoney subsequently took Alvarez's court-reported statement where he again gave essentially the same ...