The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kilbride
Agenda 19-September 2005.
Modified on Denial of Rehearing January 23, 2006.
Defendant, Bernina Mata, was convicted of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 1998)), and sentenced to death. Defendant appealed directly to this court. 134 Ill. 2d R. 603. While her appeal was pending, the Governor commuted her death sentence to natural life imprisonment. Thereafter, on our own motion, we issued an order transferring the appeal to the appellate court. The appellate court dismissed the case as moot. We granted defendant's petition for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)).
In this appeal, we consider whether defendant's challenge to the statutory aggravating factor that made her eligible for the death penalty or natural life imprisonment was rendered moot by the commutation of her sentence. We hold that this issue is not moot and, therefore, remand this matter to the appellate court for consideration of the merits of defendant's claims.
At trial in the circuit court of Boone County, Russell Grundmeier testified that he was defendant's roommate and they had a sexual relationship. Grundmeier dropped defendant off at a tavern at approximately 7 p.m. on June 27, 1998. Grundmeier went back to their apartment for a short time. When he returned to the tavern, Grundmeier observed defendant at the bar with a man identified as John Draheim. During the course of the evening, defendant flirted with Draheim and several other people in the tavern.
At approximately 10 p.m., defendant informed Grundmeier that she was going to kill Draheim and that Grundmeier was going to help. Grundmeier stated he would not help defendant. Defendant then went back and sat next to Draheim. Grundmeier left the tavern and went to the apartment he shared with defendant.
Approximately 15 to 20 minutes later, defendant arrived at the apartment with Draheim and a man named James Clark. Clark left after 20 to 30 minutes. Defendant and Draheim sat on the couch together. Grundmeier went outside because he was upset that defendant was with Draheim. After pacing for a few minutes, Grundmeier went back inside. Upon entering the apartment, he heard sounds coming from defendant's bedroom. Grundmeier went into the bedroom and observed defendant and Draheim engaging in what appeared to be consensual sex.
Grundmeier approached and grabbed Draheim's arm in an effort to stop him from having intercourse with defendant. Grundmeier testified that he struggled with Draheim, but subdued him after a short time. Grundmeier did not know where defendant went during the struggle. After Grundmeier subdued Draheim, defendant approached and stabbed Draheim in the chest with a knife. Grundmeier released Draheim and closed his eyes. Defendant then stabbed Draheim in the chest five or six more times.
Grundmeier testified that he ran out of the room and vomited after observing this incident. Grundmeier later helped defendant dispose of Draheim's body by dumping it along a road. He also cleaned the bedroom, painted the walls, and removed the bed in an effort to conceal evidence of the crime. Grundmeier entered a guilty plea to concealment of a homicidal death and was sentenced to four years' imprisonment.
The record indicates that police officers spoke with Grundmeier during their investigation. After speaking with him, the officers located Draheim's body in a rural farming area in Winnebago County. Defendant was arrested and charged with one count of first degree murder. Defendant made several incriminating statements to her fellow inmates prior to her trial. According to these inmates, defendant stated Draheim made her angry by touching her. Defendant stated she intended to kill Draheim, and she invited him to her apartment. The State also introduced several statements by defendant that were recorded on audiotapes while she was in the jail. In one of those statements, defendant asserted "[i]f they really want to check it out, they will find out it is premeditated." The parties also presented evidence on defendant's background, psychiatric condition, and intoxication on the night of the offense.
The jury found defendant guilty of first degree murder. The State sought imposition of the death penalty, claiming the offense was "committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner pursuant to a preconceived plan, scheme or design to take a human life by unlawful means, and the conduct of the defendant created a reasonable expectation that the death of a human being would result therefrom." 720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(11) (West 1998). The jury determined that this aggravating factor was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury further found there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of the death penalty. 720 ILCS 5/9-1(h) (West 1998). Accordingly, the trial court sentenced defendant to death.
Defendant appealed her conviction and sentence directly to this court. 134 Ill. 2d R. 603. After we heard oral argument and took the matter under advisement, defendant filed a petition for commutation of her death sentence with the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.
The State has submitted a copy of defendant's petition for commutation in the appendix to its brief. Although the petition is not part of the record, we may take judicial notice of matters that are readily verifiable from sources of indisputable accuracy. People v. Henderson, 171 Ill. 2d 124, 134 (1996). The petition is a public document that falls within the category of readily verifiable matters. See 730 ILCS 5/3-3-2(e) (West 1998); Henderson, 171 Ill. 2d at 134. Accordingly, we take judicial notice of the petition.
In her petition, defendant asserted "the appropriate action to be taken on [her] case is a commutation of the death sentence," and requested commutation to "an appropriate sentence of imprisonment." Defendant asserted clemency should be granted because the criminal justice system was so broken and fundamentally flawed that it failed to ensure a just result. She went on to describe several flaws in the trial and sentencing proceedings. Among those errors, defendant claimed the evidence was not sufficient to prove the aggravating factor that made her eligible for the death penalty.
On January 10, 2003, the Governor commuted defendant's death sentence to natural life imprisonment. After defendant's sentence was commuted, this court transferred her appeal to the appellate court.
Defendant moved the appellate court for leave to withdraw all but one of her contentions. 353 Ill. App. 3d 784, 785. The appellate court granted defendant's motion. 353 Ill. App. 3d at 785. In her remaining contention, defendant argued she was entitled to a new sentencing hearing because the State failed to prove the aggravating factor that made her eligible for the ...