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People v. Johns

December 19, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois, No. 01-CF-17 Honorable Donald C. Courson, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Schmidt


Defendant Dwaine Johns was charged with the felony murders (720 ILCS 5/9--1(a)(3) (West 2000)) of Michael Douglas and Bertha Diaz. Following a jury trial, defendant was found guilty of both felony murders. He was subsequently sentenced to natural life imprisonment pursuant to the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/5--8--1(c)(ii) (West 2000)). Defendant's posttrial motion was denied and he appeals, arguing that (1) he was not proved guilty of Douglas's murder on a theory of accountability because the State's evidence failed to prove that he intended to promote or facilitate the armed robbery or attempted armed robbery of Douglas; (2) his conviction for the felony murder of Diaz must be reversed, because the armed robbery or attempted armed robbery of Douglas ended before Diaz was murdered; and (3) the imposition of a sentence of natural life imprisonment was unconstitutional as applied.


At trial, it was undisputed that on March 1, 2000, Jarvis Jackson shot and killed Michael Douglas near Douglas's mother's home in Peoria Heights and then shot and killed Bertha Diaz in an apartment at 711 Shipman in Peoria. The issue at trial was whether Dwaine Johns was accountable for the homicides. The events leading up to these murders were recounted by both the defendant, who testified in his own behalf, and Jarvis Jackson, who testified against the defendant as part of a plea bargain in which the State agreed not to seek the death penalty against Jackson.

Defendant testified that on the evening in question, he agreed to accompany Jackson and Derrick Echols to "collect some money" from Michael Douglas. The three men rode to 711 North Shipman in Peoria in Jackson's vehicle. Jackson knocked on the apartment door, kicked it in and entered the apartment. Defendant testified that he never saw a gun until Jackson kicked in the door. At that point, Jackson waved the gun and told defendant and Echols to enter the apartment. Diaz and Douglas were sitting on the couch when the three entered the apartment. Jackson approached Douglas and demanded to know where "the shit" was. Defendant heard Douglas and Jackson argue and Douglas mentioned that "it" was at his mom's. Jackson then took Douglas upstairs and returned with Douglas and a second gun. He handed the second gun to the defendant and told defendant to stay with Diaz.

Defendant remained in the apartment with Diaz for approximately 45 minutes before Jackson returned. During that time, there was a small baby in a playpen on the first floor and another small boy upstairs who came down and sat with Diaz. Diaz allegedly told defendant that Douglas did not keep that kind of "stuff" in the house because they had been robbed before. Defendant states that he told Diaz that he was not there to get anything and did not even know what was going on. Defendant testified that he did not leave the apartment because he was afraid that Jackson was outside the door. Defendant claims that he kept the gun in his pocket the entire time that he sat with Diaz during Jackson's absence. According to defendant, when Jackson returned, he told defendant to leave. Defendant gave Jackson the second gun and left the apartment. Ten to fifteen seconds later, defendant heard a gunshot.

Jackson left the apartment, shoved defendant into his car, and sped away. While they were driving away from the scene, Jackson mentioned that he had shot Douglas because Douglas had tried to run. Jackson gave the gun to defendant and told him to hide it. Defendant said he buried it in his backyard, but the next day, he dug it up and returned it to Jackson. Defendant did not go to the police until he learned that they were looking for him. He claimed that he initially remained quiet and did not inform police of what happened because he feared Jackson and his brother, who had threatened him if he talked. Jackson threatened to tell the police that defendant was the shooter if he talked.

Defendant told a police detective in September of 2000 that he knew who killed Douglas and Diaz. However, he did not give any further details until he gave a voluntary statement on January 6, 2001. Defendant subsequently assisted the police by arranging to meet Jackson at a Wal-Mart store, where Jackson was taken into custody.

In rebuttal, Jackson testified that he, defendant and Echols had planned to go to Douglas's residence to rob him and that defendant saw Jackson's gun when Jackson came to pick him up. Jackson also said that defendant was standing next to him when he shot Diaz. Jackson admitted that he initially told the police that defendant was the shooter, but in a later statement, he admitted that he shot both Douglas and Diaz. He subsequently pled guilty to both murders and agreed to testify against defendant in exchange for a sentence of natural life imprisonment.


I. Accountability for Felony Murder

a. General Principles Involved

First, we consider defendant's contention that he was not proved guilty on the theory of accountability because the State failed to prove that he intended to promote or facilitate the robbery or attempted robbery of Douglas. The State argues that the defendant knew about the plan to rob Douglas, and the murders would not have occurred but for defendant's conduct.

Upon the conviction of a defendant, a reviewing court will preserve the role of the trier of fact as weigher of the evidence by viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution. People v. Collins, 106 Ill. 2d 237, 478 N.E.2d 267 (1985). Issues of witness credibility are reserved for the trier of fact as well. The relevant question is whether any rational trier of fact could have found the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. People v. Campbell, 146 Ill. 2d 363, 586 N.E.2d 1261 (1992).

A person commits attempted robbery when, with intent to commit robbery, he takes any substantial step toward the commission of a robbery. 720 ILCS 5/8--4, 18--1(a) (West 2000). He commits a robbery when he takes property from the person or the presence of another by the use of force or ...

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