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People v. Griffin

August 24, 2004

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
LONA R. GRIFFIN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County. No. 01CF90. Honorable Donald D. Bernardi, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann

PUBLISHED

In June 2001, a jury convicted defendant, Lona R. Griffin, of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 2000)) of her infant son, Joseph. The trial court later sentenced her to 25 years in prison.

Defendant appeals, arguing that (1) the trial court erred by (a) improperly instructing the jury on the definition of knowledge, (b) granting the State's motion in limine to exclude certain evidence, and (c) failing to conduct an inquiry when, several days after the jury rendered its verdict, the court received a letter stating that the majority of the jurors considered defense counsel to have been ineffective; (2) she received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because counsel failed to challenge the voluntariness of her confession; and (3) she did not knowingly waive her right to file a motion to reconsider sentence. Because we agree with defendant's first argument, we reverse and remand.

I. BACKGROUND

In January 2001, the State charged defendant with first degree murder, alleging that she knowingly performed the acts that caused Joseph's death when she forcefully pressed his face and chest into her chest, causing him to suffocate, knowing such acts created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 2000)). At defendant's June 2001 trial, the following evidence was presented that is pertinent to our decision in this case.

A. Defendant's Calls Regarding Joseph

On January 23, 2001, defendant, then 20 years old, lived in a trailer in Bloomington with her boyfriend, Frederick Robb, and their two children, Jordan (born July 1, 1999) and Joseph (born December 22, 2000). They all slept in the same bedroom. Robb got up a little after 5 a.m. to go to work, and the others were still in bed. Defendant was lying on one side of the bed, and Jordan and Joseph were in the middle of the bed.

Around 6:20 a.m., defendant called Robb at the gas station where he worked and told him that Joseph was not breathing. She asked him what she should do, and he told her to call 9-1-1 and then call his sister, Stacy Nesby, who lived close by and knew cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Defendant called 9-1-1 and reported that Joseph was not breathing. Emergency personnel arrived shortly thereafter and attempted to treat Joseph, whom they found to be in cardiac and respiratory arrest. They then transported him to a hospital.

When Joseph arrived at the hospital, he was not breathing, had no heart rhythm or blood pressure, and was not making spontaneous movements. He died the next day.

B. Defendant's Initial Explanation for Joseph's Death

Defendant told one of the paramedics treating Joseph that she had been sleeping in bed with Joseph and Jordan, and when she woke up, Joseph was on the floor. She thought that maybe Jordan had knocked him off the bed.

Nesby talked to defendant at the hospital shortly after Joseph was brought in and asked her what happened. Defendant told Nesby that when she woke up, Joseph was on the floor, the bassinet was pushed away, and Joseph was not breathing. Defendant provided that same information to the emergency room physician. While in the hospital, defendant was given the opportunity to hold Joseph but declined. When the medical personnel told defendant that he was likely to die, she became very tearful and said, "I would never kill my babies."

C. Defendant's Police Interviews

Bloomington police officers interviewed defendant extensively on January 23, 2001. Defendant's first statement was tape-recorded and she later gave a videotaped statement. The videotape, which lasted around three hours, was played for the jury.

In her videotaped statement, defendant said that she and Robb had lately been arguing a lot, and she would move out of the trailer when Robb was too difficult to be around. However, she always returned after a day or two. Although Robb would occasionally drink, yell at her, throw things, shove her, and threaten to beat or kill her, he had never actually struck her. Defendant said that although Robb loved the children, she was their primary caretaker because Robb worked.

Defendant initially told police essentially the same story she had told medical personnel--namely, that she had awakened and found Joseph on the floor. When one of the detectives informed her that he had attended Joseph's autopsy and learned that he had been suffocated, defendant slowly began to change her story. At first, defendant stated that she "might have rolled over on [Joseph]. If I did[,] I didn't mean for it to happen." Defendant then said she was scared to say what happened and reverted to saying once again that she woke up and Joseph was lying on the floor. Then, without providing any details, she said, "I didn't mean to kill my son. I don't want anyone to think I did."

After a break in the interrogation, defendant informed the officers that she had been having a lot of stress from being the only person taking care of the children. The officers suggested that defendant had not been getting the help she needed, and defendant acknowledged that was true. Then the following colloquy occurred:

"[DEFENDANT]: I might have suffocated Joey.

[DETECTIVE]: Huh?

[DEFENDANT]: I might have suffocated him, I don't know.

[DETECTIVE]: You might have suffocated him?

[DEFENDANT]: Yes, I don't know.

[DETECTIVE]: How might have you suffocated him? Did you put your hand over his mouth?

[DEFENDANT]: No. If he moved him or anything.

[DETECTIVE]: And [defendant], you know it's not that you might have suffocated him. You did suffocate him.

[DEFENDANT]: I know, that's what I'm trying to say.

[DETECTIVE]: You did suffocate him[,] didn't you?

[DEFENDANT]: Through my feelings, I feel that I probably did.

[DETECTIVE]: Through what?

[DEFENDANT]: Through my feelings, I feel that I probably did.

[DETECTIVE]: Okay, how?

[DEFENDANT]: I have no clue."

Upon further questioning, defendant said that she "had a lot of frustration in [her]." She explained that after Robb left for work, Joseph began crying and was upset, and she could not get him to stop crying. After acknowledging again that she was the one who suffocated Joseph, the following discussion occurred:

"[DETECTIVE]: Did you hold him to your chest when he was crying to get him to stop crying?

[DEFENDANT]: For a few minutes I did.

[DETECTIVE]: Were you holding him really tightly?

[DEFENDANT]: Yes.

[DETECTIVE]: To where he couldn't breath?

[DEFENDANT]: I don't know. I might have.

[DETECTIVE]: How did he stop crying? Did he stop crying while you were holding him tight to your chest?

[DEFENDANT]: After a while yes. I am just so scared.

[DETECTIVE]: And you knew that something bad was wrong with Joey then, didn't you, when he stopped crying?

[DEFENDANT]: I called the ambulance and that (inaudible)."

At this point in the interrogation, the officers advised defendant of her Miranda rights (Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 16 L.Ed. 2d 694, 86 S.Ct. 1602 (1966)). The officers then continued to question her, and the following colloquy occurred:

"[DETECTIVE]: Okay, *** you tell me if this is not correct or not. Yesterday morning after [Robb] got up and left for work, Joey started crying?

[DEFENDANT]: Yes, he did.

[DETECTIVE]: Did Jordan wake up when Joey started crying?

[DEFENDANT]: He woke up a little bit after.

[DETECTIVE]: He was kind of in and out?

[DEFENDANT]: Yeah.

[DETECTIVE]: In and out of sleeping. Was Joey really just wailing?

[DEFENDANT]: He was just crying.

[DETECTIVE]: I'm sorry?

[DEFENDANT]: He was crying.

[DETECTIVE]: I mean, really loud?

[DEFENDANT]: No, it wasn't really loud. It was, you know, a little bit louder than normal.

[DETECTIVE]: And you were getting frustrated?

[DEFENDANT]: Yeah.

[DETECTIVE]: And so what did you do?

[DEFENDANT]: The only thing I could do was lay beside him and hold him.

[DETECTIVE]: I'm sorry?

[DEFENDANT]: I said, the only thing I could do was lay him beside me and hold him. And I was holding him a little bit tight.

[DETECTIVE]: Did you have Joey up on your chest when you were lying on your back?

[DEFENDANT]: Yes, I was [sic].

[DETECTIVE]: Did you have Joey's face in you[r] chest?

[DEFENDANT]: He was with his head right here.

[DETECTIVE]: Okay, was his face directly facing your chest?

[DEFENDANT]: It might have been.

[DETECTIVE]: And did you squeeze Joey really hard?

[DEFENDANT]: I didn't squeeze him really hard. I might have squeezed him a little too tight, but I didn't squeeze him really, really hard.

[DETECTIVE]: What do you mean, squeezing him too tight?

[DEFENDANT]: I mean, you know, hold him tighter than you normally do, but I didn't squeeze him really, really tight.

[DETECTIVE]: And why did you squeeze him tighter than you normally would?

[DEFENDANT]: Just to rock him.

[DETECTIVE]: To make him stop crying?

[DEFENDANT]: Yes.

[DETECTIVE]: Did you have it so his head, so his crying would be muffled? And understand, we understand what was going on in your life, were you very frustrated at that point?

[DEFENDANT]: Yes, I was.

[DETECTIVE]: Were you angry?

[DEFENDANT]: I was never angry angry but I was a [sic] frustrated. I was [a] little bit angry.

[DETECTIVE]: You were a little bit angry? Angry at Joey?

[DEFENDANT]: For him crying.

[DETECTIVE]: At the whole thing? Which is what we do, too. We get angry with our kids, you know?

[DEFENDANT]: I'm sure everybody does.

[DETECTIVE]: But you were angry because Joey was fussing, and you held Joey on top of your chest?

[DEFENDANT]: Yes[,] I did.

[DETECTIVE]: Did you have your hand on top of Joey's head?

[DEFENDANT]: No, I had them on his back area.

[DETECTIVE]: In the middle of his back pressing ...


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