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People v. Patterson

May 04, 2004


Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 02CF1597 Honorable John G. Townsend, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook


In April 2003, a jury convicted defendant, Ricky A. Patterson, of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1 (West 2002)), arson (720 ILCS 5/20-1 (West 2002)), and concealment of a homicide (720 ILCS 5/9-3.1 (West 2002)). In May 2003, the judge sentenced him to 55 years in prison. He appeals, and we affirm.


Defendant was charged with the murder of Derrick Prout, a drug dealer. Prout's body was found in his burning Dodge Intrepid in a little-trafficked area of Lake County on Saturday, June 22, 2002, at about 8:50 a.m. Prout had been stabbed eight times and shot twice. His body was found in the trunk, partially wrapped in a white blanket with a distinctive blue pattern on it. The medical examiner was unable to say when Prout had died.

In June 2002, defendant was living in a house on the outskirts of Champaign with his girlfriend, Migdalia Rivera, and their young daughter. They were behind on their rent and had been told to move out. As of June 17, defendant still lived in the house but had told his landlord he would be moving out in a few days.

Prout drove his Dodge Intrepid to Champaign on June 17, where he arrived at the apartment of his girlfriend, Candice Johnson, at about 4 p.m. Prout brought with him a canvas bag full of cannabis. At about 8 p.m., defendant also arrived at Johnson's apartment. He spoke with Prout for a few minutes, then Prout retrieved the canvas bag of cannabis and drove off in his Dodge Intrepid followed by defendant in his Blazer. Prout told Johnson he would be back soon, but she never saw him again. Johnson called Prout's cellular phone numerous times the night of the 17th but got no response. Johnson and Prout's sister looked for him on the 18th. Prout's sister spoke to defendant over the phone on the 18th and several times on the 19th and finally met with him at about 8 p.m. Defendant was late for the meeting and explained that he had found out his house was on fire and had to deal with that first.

On June 19, at about 3:19 a.m., the house rented by defendant was discovered to be on fire. An arson investigator from the state fire marshal's office determined the fire had been set intentionally at five separate locations in the house. A blood-stained carpet was eventually discovered in the house, and a deoxyrybonucleic acid (DNA) match established that the blood was Prout's. The carpet had a strong odor of cleaning agents and had a foamy solution coming out of it. Investigators also found a roll of undeveloped film in the kitchen containing pictures of defendant's daughter wrapped in a blanket. The blanket, blue with a distinctive white pattern, appeared to be the same blanket found wrapped around Prout's body.

On June 23, after Prout's body was found in Lake County, two members of the Lake County sheriff's department drove to St. Louis to speak with defendant, who was being held by St. Louis police. They arrived at about 3:30 a.m. Defendant stated that he was in St. Louis because his house had burned up and he and his family had lost everything, so they were doing some shopping and sightseeing. He said that he did not have a cellular phone or a pager. He refused to give his questioners Rivera's cellular phone number. When asked whether he had any money, defendant responded that he was carrying his life savings of $8,500. Asked how he found out about the fire, he responded that he had left Champaign at about 10 p.m. the night before the fire for a court date in Chicago; while he was there, his family told him about the fire by telephone.

At trial, defendant testified to the meeting with Prout at Johnson's apartment on June 17. He testified he and Prout left in separate cars and went to a car wash, where he gave Prout $16,000 cash for 30 pounds of cannabis. After Prout left, defendant washed his car, then went home, watched television, and went to bed. The next day, the 18th, he "bummed around the house" and then stopped by his parents' home. He had a court date in Chicago on the 19th, so he and Rivera left Champaign on the 18th at about 8 p.m. They checked into the Rand Motel in Lake County at almost 11 p.m. The morning of the 19th, he had car troubles. He took his car to a mechanic around 7 a.m. but had to wait until the shop opened. He was late for his 9 a.m. court hearing, arriving at about 11 a.m., and was told to return the next day, the 20th. As he and Rivera traveled back to Champaign, he received a call from his brother, telling him about his house fire. After arriving in Champaign at about 6:30 p.m., he drove directly to the house, where he recovered a few items. He and Rivera returned to Chicago the morning of the 20th in time for his rescheduled 9 a.m. court date.

Defendant testified that on June 21, he went to St. Louis with Rivera and their daughter, arriving at about 10 p.m. They spent the 22nd, the day Prout's body was found in Lake County, going to the zoo and sightseeing. At 5:30 p.m., as defendant was getting ready to go out to get dinner, the St. Louis police kicked in the door of the hotel room and arrested him.

Defendant used a cellular phone leased to Rivera. On the 18th, Rivera's phone records show that calls were placed from that phone at various locations in the Champaign area, the last call being at 9:36 p.m. There were Champaign calls on the 19th, the first call being at 8:22 a.m. The timing of the calls indicates that it was possible for defendant to kill Prout, set the house fire that was discovered on June 19 at 3:19 a.m., and then drive the Dodge Intrepid with Prout's body to Lake County, all before appearing in court in Cook County on June 19 at 11 a.m. On cross-examination, defendant attempted to explain these calls: he inadvertently left the phone in the car of his friend, Chris Smith, in Champaign at about 3:30 p.m. on the 18th. That night he sold Smith eight pounds of cannabis in Schaumburg but forgot to get the phone back. At about 2:30 p.m. on the 19th, after defendant's missed court date, Smith returned the phone to him at the courthouse in Chicago.

In his opening statement, defendant's attorney said that Rivera would testify. She was issued a subpoena and was scheduled to testify but chose to invoke her right to remain silent. Over objection, the State was allowed to present testimony that Rivera gave to the grand jury in January 2003. Rivera told the grand jury that she and defendant left Champaign on the 18th at about 8 p.m. and that they stayed at the Rand Motel. Although defendant had a court hearing scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on the 19th, they did not leave the motel until 10:30 a.m. because of car trouble. They were in the Chicago area until late afternoon when they headed back to Champaign. Rivera stated that she or defendant had the cellular phone registered in her name with them the entire time. They first heard of the fire by phone as they were returning from Cook County.

On April 23, 2003, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all three charges against defendant. On May 29, defendant filed a posttrial motion, arguing that (1) he had not been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and (2) the trial court had erred in admitting Rivera's grand-jury testimony. The court denied the motion and proceeded to sentence defendant to 50 years for first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1 (West 2002)); 5 years for concealing a homicidal death (720 ILCS 5/9-3.1 (West 2002)), to be served consecutively with the murder sentence; and a concurrent 5-year sentence on the arson charge (720 ...

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