The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Fitzgerald
Docket No. 90072-Agenda 4-March 2002.
Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Macon County, defendant, Robert Lee Evans, Jr., was convicted of first degree murder. 720 ILCS 5/9-1 (West 2000). The same jury found defendant eligible for the death penalty and further determined that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of that sentence. Subsequently, the trial court sentenced defendant to death. Defendant's sentence was stayed pending his direct appeal to this court. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §4(b); 720 ILCS 5/9-1(i) (West 2000); 134 Ill. 2d R. 603.
On the evening of May 5, 1999, at approximately 11:30 p.m., 19-year-old Jerry Watson received a telephone call at his house in Decatur while he was watching a movie with his sister, Crystal. After a brief telephone conversation, Watson grabbed his car keys, told Crystal he was going to "Little Robert Lee's" house, and left in his 1991 Chevrolet Caprice. Watson never returned home. At 5:30 a.m. the following morning, his car was found in an alley with the window down, the door unlocked, and the dashboard damaged. At 6:15 p.m., Watson was found dead with 20 separate stab wounds to his body. The stab wounds began at the base of his skull and extended down the back of his body to his buttocks.
Defendant was questioned by the police about Watson's murder on May 6, 1999. Defendant denied any involvement in the murder and told the police that on May 5, 1999, between 11 p.m. and 11:45 p.m., he was with his cousin at a local liquor store. Defendant told the police that he was home in bed by 1 a.m., and that his younger brother, Marquis, was also home when he went to bed. Defendant said that he last saw Watson one month earlier. When the police confronted defendant with information that people saw him with Watson one week before the murder, he recanted his earlier statement and recalled that he had seen Watson one week earlier and that he tried to contact Watson on May 5, 1999. Defendant then added that in addition to the liquor store he stopped at his Aunt Jackie's house on May 5, 1999, and that he called Carrie, Watson's girlfriend, on the telephone from his aunt's house. He stated, however, that he did not call Watson. Defendant denied killing Watson, and denied having possession of any car stereo equipment.
Defendant then changed his statement when he was informed by the police that they had recovered hidden stereo equipment inside his house. At that time, defendant replied to the police that he "wanted to tell the truth." He stated that on the night of the murder, at 3 a.m., an individual named Teddy came to his house, woke him up, and offered to sell him stereo equipment. Defendant bought some of the equipment from Teddy for $60. Defendant told the police that he kept the amplifier, but sold the stereo deck to an unknown Caucasian male in his neighborhood. After the police informed defendant that Teddy had an alibi, he asked if he would be released if "he told the truth." Defendant ultimately implicated his 13-year-old brother, Marquis. Defendant claimed that his earlier statements were lies to protect his brother who had committed the murder.
At trial, the State claimed that defendant murdered Watson in order to take his newly installed car stereo equipment. The State presented the following evidence at trial. Several of Watson's family members and friends testified that Watson and the defendant were together numerous times, most recently in the weeks before the murder. On the evening of May 5, 1999, Watson was riding around in his car with his sister, Crystal, and three friends, Jason, Tim and Tara. Tara, Tim's sister, was dating Jason. Several times throughout the evening, Jason's pager went off with an unknown number. Later in the evening, the group stopped at Jason's house. At Jason's house, Tara spoke to Jason's sister, Carrie, also Watson's girlfriend. Carrie told Tara that defendant "had been calling" and wanted to speak to Watson, she told Tara that each time defendant called she called Jason's pager and left defendant's phone number. Carrie testified about her telephone conversations with defendant on May 5, 1999. She stated that defendant asked if Watson was still driving his Impala-she told defendant that Watson was driving a new car given to him by his mother, a 1991 Chevrolet Caprice. Defendant also asked about the stereo system in Watson's new car-she told defendant about Watson's newly installed car stereo equipment. When Watson did not respond to the pages, defendant called a final time and asked Carrie for Watson's home telephone number.
Tara informed Watson that defendant was looking for him, and Watson did not reply. At 11 p.m., Watson returned home; he and Crystal then watched a movie on television.
Crystal testified that 15 minutes after she and Watson started to watch the movie, the telephone rang. Watson answered and spoke to the caller for three to four minutes. Crystal testified that when Watson hung up the telephone, he grabbed his car keys from the table, but left his money and identification, and indicated that he was going to "Little Robert Lee's" house and would return shortly. At approximately 2 a.m., defendant had not returned home and Crystal went to bed.
At 5:40 a.m., on her way to work, Watson's mother observed Watson's car parked in the alley behind their house. The driver's window was down, the door was unlocked, and the stereo was missing from the dashboard. She immediately called the police to report that he was missing. The police responded to the scene and discovered that the amplifier, the subwoofer box, the cross-over, the head unit of the stereo, a CD sleeve, and an antenna adapter were missing from the car. Based upon Watson's comment when he left the house, Crystal went to defendant's house to ask him when he last saw Watson and if he knew where they could find him. Defendant responded that he had not seen Watson for several days.
Approximately 12 hours later, at 6:15 p.m., the police discovered Watson's body lying in a field two blocks from defendant's residence. Defendant lived in his grandmother's house with his 13-year-old brother, Marquis, his father, his father's girlfriend, his aunt, and his aunt's daughter. The police searched the house with defendant's grandmother's consent. During the search, the police discovered an amplifier under a bed, subwoofers behind the water heater located in the attic crawl space, a piece of speaker wire on the floor of the kitchen, a piece of speaker wire outside the back door, and an empty knife sheath under the bed next to the amplifier. At trial, several witnesses testified about the likeness of the stereo equipment retrieved from defendant's home to that of Watson's stereo system. For example, Watson's friend who helped install the car stereo system testified that Watson's amplifier had a velcro strip attached to the top and that one of the contacts had been broken off and that in its place was a cord to complete the connection. The amplifier found in defendant's home had a similar velcro strip across the top and the same broken connection with a make-shift cord.
The police also discovered a pile of wet clothing near the washing machine in defendant's home. Specifically, the police recovered gray sweat pants with blood on the knee. After testing the blood, Watson's DNA profile could not be excluded from the DNA profile present in the blood on the sweat pants. The police also recovered a soaking wet white T-shirt with a bloodstain. The DNA profile gathered from the bloodstain was consistent with Watson such that the profile would be expected to occur in one in 230 Caucasians. Additionally, the police seized a pair of white Reebok tennis shoes; the shoes were damp and smelled of bleach. The shoes testified negative for the presence of blood. A forensic pathologist for the State testified, however, that bleach degrades DNA. Police also gathered a black sweatshirt, a pair of boxer shorts, a turquoise T-shirt, and a second pair of boxer shorts. These items were wet and located next to the washing machine. In the dryer, police discovered a pair of black pants, a pair of socks and a pair of boxer shorts. The same forensic pathologist testified that detergent and hot water can cause the degradation of DNA.
Marquis testified for the State consistent with his statement to the police on May 6, 1999. Marquis gave his statement to the police in the presence of his father. Marquis stated that he did not know Watson, but saw Watson around town. He testified that on May 5, 1999, he went to bed at midnight. Defendant woke him up during the night and asked for his help at the side door of the house. Marquis testified that defendant's clothes were soaking wet from the falling rain outside, and that defendant was wearing black pants, a black sweater and white Reebok tennis shoes. Marquis followed defendant to the side door and discovered a stereo system, including a speaker box, amplifier, CD player, and other items he could not recall. Marquis helped defendant put the speaker box in the attic, the amplifier in a bedroom, and the CD player on top of a table in the den. While they moved the equipment, defendant told Marquis, "This is what I stole from Jerry." Defendant did not give Marquis any further details. Marquis further stated that defendant was wearing black pants when he first came home, but that he changed his clothing and put on gray sweat pants. Marquis further testified that he did not share clothing with defendant.
The State presented the testimony of Correctional Officer Ben Swain. Officer Swain testified that after defendant was arrested on May 7, 1999, he escorted defendant to his cell. He stated that when he walked defendant to his cell at 3 a.m., defendant made the unsolicited statements, "I come up here a lot, and I'll be here for a long time," and "I stabbed that guy." Officer Swain immediately reported defendant's statement to the detectives in the police department.
On May 7, 1999, following the report by Officer Swain, defendant was questioned by Lieutenant Todd Walker of the Decatur police department. Lieutenant Walker testified that defendant did not make any admissions about the crime, but rather replied to his questions with the statement that "he was going to hell" and that "he was going to take everybody with him." Lieutenant Walker also testified that he observed a small cut on the little finger of defendant's left hand.
Ferlandis Scott, defendant's cousin, also testified for the State. At the time of defendant's arrest, Scott was in the county jail for an unrelated incident. He admitted that he had hoped to receive leniency in exchange for his testimony, but that he had received no promises. Scott testified that defendant admitted to him that he killed Watson. Specifically, he testified that defendant told him he called Watson from his Aunt Jackie's house on the night of the murder and asked Watson to meet him. He told Scott that he and Watson rode around in Watson's car for a while before he told Watson to give him the stereo equipment. Watson replied, "Why you playing me like that? I never done anything wrong to you?" Defendant told him that Watson tried to run, but that he chased him, and when Watson turned and tried to grab him, he "took care of business." When defendant stated that "he took care of business," he made stabbing motions to Scott. Defendant also told him that he used his brother's knife to stab Watson, then buried the knife, and finally took the stereo equipment home, where he made Marquis help him hide it in the house. Scott testified that defendant told him he washed the clothing he was wearing with bleach and detergent to hide the bloodstains before he went to bed.
Defendant presented several witnesses in support of his theory that his brother, Marquis, committed the crime. First, defendant himself testified. Defendant denied killing Watson. He testified that on the night of May 5, 1999, he left his house to buy liquor and cigarettes. After making his purchases, he stated, he went to his Aunt Jackie's house to call Carrie, Watson's girlfriend. Defendant stated that he spoke to Carrie, but that she told him it was too late to come over so instead he walked home. According to defendant, he unsuccessfully attempted to buy marijuana on his walk home, but made no other stops during his walk. Defendant stated that he watched television for approximately one hour before Marquis arrived home at 1 a.m. and beckoned him outside. Defendant followed Marquis outside and saw an unfamiliar white Chevrolet Caprice parked in front of the house. Initially, defendant criticized Marquis for bringing the car home. At Marquis' request, he helped remove the stereo equipment from the car and hide it inside the house. After hiding the equipment, defendant noticed that Marquis was wearing his white Reebok tennis shoes; defendant stated that he and Marquis had limited clothing and as a result shared clothing and shoes. He asked Marquis to wash the shoes because he wanted to wear them the next day. Marquis replied that he would wash the shoes later, after he returned home. Marquis then left the house and returned approximately one-half hour later without the car. Defendant testified that the next morning Marquis admitted to him that he had stabbed Watson.
The State cross-examined defendant about his inconsistent statements to the police before he implicated Marquis. Defendant responded that the lies were to protect Marquis. The prosecutor further cross-examined defendant about his statement to Officer Swain. Defendant replied that Officer Swain misunderstood him. Defendant stated that he did not tell Officer Swain "I stabbed a guy," but instead said, "They're trying to say I stabbed a guy."
Additionally, defendant's Aunt Jackie testified for the defense. Jackie testified that defendant came to her house on May 5, 1999, at approximately 8 or 9 p.m., but that she went to bed after he arrived and did not know how long he stayed. A second aunt, Tammy Evans, also testified for the defense. She testified that she lived with defendant, and, as opposed to Marquis' earlier testimony, she testified that defendant and Marquis shared clothing and shoes. She testified that she observed defendant wearing dark jeans on May 5, 1999, but that her recollection was limited because she had been drinking and went to bed at 8:30 p.m.
John Britton, defendant's cousin who was also incarcerated for an unrelated charge at the time of trial, testified that while he was in jail Ferlandis Scott contacted him and suggested that they falsify a story about defendant in order to receive leniency for their crimes. Britton stated that Scott told him to read the newspapers in order to learn details about Watson's murder and to repeat those details to the assistant State's Attorney. Scott told him to tell the police that defendant stabbed a "white guy for some money and the car and some music." The State impeached Britton with his written statement to the police. In his written statement, Britton detailed a conversation with defendant in the county jail where defendant admitted to the crime and threatened to "kill his grandmother" for helping the police in his case.
Last, the defense presented the testimony of Jason Rhodes, a 28-year-old male who lived near the location where Watson's body was discovered. Rhodes testified that on the night of the murder he heard a woman screaming, "You killed him! You killed him!" and "I loved him! I loved him!" Rhodes investigated the source of the screaming by jumping over a fence where he observed a woman yelling and hitting a heavy-set male in the chest. Rhodes indicated that the area of the fence he scaled was the same area where Watson's body was later discovered. He testified that during the fight he observed a parked van with a person in the driver's seat. The woman led the man towards the van to leave when she noticed that they were attracting attention. Rhodes described the man as 5 feet 10 inches tall, Caucasian, and weighing approximately 260 pounds.
The jury found defendant guilty of first degree murder and returned a verdict finding defendant death-eligible for murder in the course of committing the felonies of robbery, burglary, or attempt robbery, or attempt burglary. Following evidence in mitigation and aggravation, the jury found no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of ...