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People v. Braggs

December 18, 2003; See amended opinion filed April 15, 2004


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rarick


Docket No. 95350-Agenda 16-September 2003.

Defendant, Mary Braggs, was charged in the circuit court of Cook County with two counts of first degree murder for the deaths of Connie Hall and Donald Rudolph. After refusing to conduct a hearing on defendant's pending motion to suppress statements, the circuit court determined that defendant was unfit to stand trial due to the severity of her mental retardation. The court thereafter conducted a discharge hearing, found the State's evidence sufficient to establish defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and remanded defendant to the Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities for a period of five years. Defendant appealed.

The appellate court reversed and remanded. People v. Braggs, 302 Ill. App. 3d 602 (1998). Holding that the circuit court had erred when it refused to conduct a suppression hearing, the appellate court remanded the cause for a hearing on defendant's motion to suppress. The appellate court also concluded that the evidence was sufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for purposes of the discharge hearing.

On remand, the circuit court conducted a hearing on defendant's motion to suppress, hearing testimony from the investigating detective, a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist, and an assistant State's Attorney who had interviewed defendant after she was formally arrested. The court ultimately ruled defendant was not competent to waive her Miranda rights, and consequently granted defendant's motion with respect to statements made to the assistant State's Attorney after defendant's arrest. However, the court did not suppress an inculpatory statement defendant allegedly made to detectives shortly before she was formally arrested, concluding that defendant was not then in custody, there was no evidence of police coercion or misconduct, and the statement was, therefore, admissible. The circuit court determined that a new discharge hearing was not necessary and reinstated the original order committing defendant to the Department of Mental Health. Defendant again appealed.

The appellate court reversed and remanded, stating:

"[W]hen the trial court ruled that Braggs' statements to the police were admissible because she was not in custody and Miranda was inapplicable, it was in error. Likewise, the court's ruling that, in the absence of police coercion or the defendant being in custody, the fact that Braggs was mentally handicapped was to be considered only as to the weight to be given her statements and not as to whether those statements were inadmissible, was in error. The court should have considered whether Braggs' statement to the detectives was voluntary in a state-law sense based upon the totality of the circumstances. [Citation.] One of the factors that the court should have considered was whether Braggs' mental retardation deprived her of `the capacity to understand the meaning and effect of the confession.' [Citation.] This is particularly important in the present case, where the trial court found the defendant was incapable of waiving her rights under Miranda due to her diminished mental capacity." 335 Ill. App. 3d 52, 65.

The appellate court remanded the cause for a new hearing on defendant's motion to suppress, directing the circuit court to conduct a new discharge hearing thereafter. 335 Ill. App. 3d at 69. The appellate court observed, "much of the evidence presented at the motion to suppress hearing was unavailable to the court which conducted the 1996 discharge hearing." 335 Ill. App. 3d at 69.

We granted the State's petition for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315), and we now affirm, with modification, the judgment of the appellate court. We begin with a recitation of the evidence adduced at the suppression hearing.

Chicago police detective Edward Winstead testified that he investigated the deaths of Donald Rudolph and Connie Hall. The victims' bodies were both found in a first-floor apartment located on South Prairie Avenue in Chicago on April 28, 1993. Although officers initially thought that Rudolph had been beaten to death, it was later determined that Rudolph died as a result of strangulation. Hall died as a result of multiple stab wounds. During the course of the investigation, Winstead began looking for defendant.

On May 7, 1993, Survilla Cameron contacted Winstead and informed him that defendant lived with her. Cameron represented herself to be defendant's sister and guardian; however, Winstead admitted he never saw any documentation to substantiate Cameron's claim. After Cameron indicated that Winstead could speak with defendant, Winstead transported defendant and Cameron to Area One and questioned her. Prior to questioning, Cameron informed Winstead that defendant was "mentally incompetent." Winstead admitted one could "clearly see that she was mentally deficient." Cameron agreed to help Winstead in his interrogation of defendant, but cautioned him that defendant was "slow." Winstead did not advise defendant of her Miranda rights. The interrogation took place in an interview room with another detective present.

Winstead testified he had difficulty communicating with defendant in that "sometimes she wouldn't answer questions," and other times she was "very slow in answering." In Winstead's own words: "She would be very slow in answering. And her sister would then kind of repeat the question or if Mary Braggs seemed to be paying attention to me she would then answer to her sister." If defendant responded, she would generally direct her answers to Cameron, and Cameron would then "tell [Winstead] what [defendant] was saying." However, Winstead testified he could hear defendant as she spoke. During the interrogation, Cameron acted as an intermediary for Winstead. Defendant's answers were responsive to Winstead's questions in the sense that defendant would respond to questions repeated by Cameron and first posed by Winstead.

Winstead summarized the substance of defendant's statements from the hour-long interrogation. According to Winstead, defendant told him that she was in the apartment on South Prairie Avenue when two black males came to the door. Defendant overheard an argument and hid in the closet. When she came out, defendant saw Hall dead in the bedroom. Defendant said Hall had been stabbed and was wearing white. Defendant said Rudolph was in the front room. He had been hit in the head with a wrench and had been strangled to death. Winstead testified that defendant's description was "very accurate as to how the victims died and where they were found." Following the interrogation, Winstead took defendant and Cameron home.

On the morning of May 9, Winstead again questioned defendant, this time at Cameron's apartment. As in all of the interviews, Cameron was present. Detective James Redmond was also present. Winstead said defendant was still very slow in answering questions, or she might not answer at all, but during this second interrogation, she at least spoke directly to him most of the time. Winstead testified he went to question defendant, a mere two days after the first interrogation, "to see if [he] could get a little bit more information, if she recalled more about the two black males who came to the door and the argument." Winstead testified that defendant told him one of the men was named Ron and he was a friend of Cleo. Defendant described the other man as a tall black male. Winstead testified that the investigation revealed Ron Thomas was an acquaintance of Cleo and the victims, and when Winstead located him he was with a tall black male named Mike.

Later that same afternoon, Winstead picked up defendant and Cameron and took them to Area One. Winstead spoke to defendant in an interview room. He indicated, as previously, it took defendant a long time to answer questions. "Often times [sic] she would put her head down and say `I don't know.' " Winstead showed defendant photographs of Ron Thomas and Mike. Defendant quickly identified the photograph of Mike as being the tall black male. Winstead said she was at first uncertain of the identity of Ron Thomas, then she positively him. Winstead testified that when he informed defendant the men were at the police station, defendant changed her story. Defendant then said that these were not the two men who came to the apartment and that it was two different men. Defendant reiterated that two men came to the door and she hid in the closet.

Winstead testified that on that same afternoon he took defendant and Cameron to the scene of the murders. Defendant pointed out where the two bodies were found. Winstead testified that her account was consistent with where the bodies were found by the police. Defendant then showed Winstead the closet where she hid. Winstead testified he examined the closet and defendant "couldn't have possibly fit in there." Winstead then took defendant and Cameron home, having questioned defendant at three different locations over the course of the day.

On May 12, Winstead transported defendant and Cameron to the polygraph unit of the Chicago police department. Although defendant was cooperative, the polygraph examination was inconclusive because defendant did not register enough emotion. Again, defendant was returned to Cameron's apartment. Cameron and defendant subsequently changed residences.

On June 25, 1993, Winstead picked up defendant and Cameron from their new apartment and again took them to Area One for questioning. Prior to the questioning, Winstead informed Cameron that the police were looking at defendant as a potential suspect. Despite the State's representation otherwise, the record is silent as to whether that information was communicated to defendant. Winstead, another detective, defendant, and Cameron were present in the interview room. Winstead advised defendant of her Miranda warnings from a standard form without additional explanation. Defendant made no verbal response; she merely nodded her head in an affirmative manner. Although Winstead could not remember her exact words, he recalled that Cameron said something to the effect of: "he's telling you that you don't have to talk to me and that you're not going to be in trouble or something." Defendant nodded her head in agreement and "seemed to understand what her sister was saying." Defendant never verbally indicated that she understood, and she did not sign a waiver form. Indeed, it is unclear to what extent defendant ever responded to, or communicated with Winstead, He acknowledged that Cameron "initially" acted as an "interpreter," and it is obvious from the foregoing testimony that she was still acting in that capacity on June 25, 1993, despite Winstead's suggestion to the contrary: "After a while, after I talked to [defendant] somewhat, I could begin to understand or she'd answer me or she wouldn't." The record does not indicate whether Winstead's questions to defendant were suggestive or leading, or whether they called for a narrative response.

Although the transcript of the suppression hearing does not reveal the substance of statements defendant made during the June 25 interview, the testimony of another detective from the discharge hearing indicated that defendant said she and Connie Hall were in an apartment together on April 28, 1993, when Donald Rudolph returned. Rudolph was drunk and struck both defendant and Hall. Defendant then knocked Rudolph down and he struck his head. Hall became upset, accusing defendant of killing Rudolph, and defendant then stabbed Hall a number of times in her upper body. Following the hour-long ...

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