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People v. Kruger

March 10, 2006


Appeal from Circuit Court of Vermilion County No. 99CF357 Honorable Thomas J. Fahey, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook

In June 2003, a jury convicted defendant, Joshua Kruger, of (1) first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a) (West 1998)), (2) home invasion (720 ILCS 5/12-11(a) (West 1998)), (3) residential burglary (720 ILCS 5/19-3(a) (West 1998)), and (4) attempt (robbery) (720 ILCS 5/8-4(a), 18-1(a) (West 1998)). In August 2003, the trial court sentenced him to the following concurrent prison terms: natural life for first degree murder, 30 years for home invasion, 15 years for residential burglary, and 5 years for attempt (robbery). Defendant's motion to reconsider sentence was denied and he appealed. We affirm as modified and remand with directions.


On July 15, 1999, the police were called to 81-year-old Peter Godels's home in Westville after Godels did not answer his door when a woman came to deliver his meal. The police found Godels dead in his bedroom. An autopsy performed on July 16, 1999, showed Godels had 16 external injuries and died 6 to 24 hours before the autopsy was performed from cranial cerebral injuries due to multiple blunt-force trauma.

Defendant was eventually indicted in connection with Godels's homicide for multiple counts of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9- 1(a)(1), (a)(3) (West 1998)), home invasion, residential burglary, and attempt (robbery).

Defendant proceeded with a jury trial. Before the trial, defense counsel filed motions to suppress evidence, objecting to a search of defendant's car. The trial court granted the motion in part. The State appealed. This court found that the trial court erred in excluding the evidence. People v. Kruger, 327 Ill. App. 3d 839, 845, 764 N.E.2d 138, 142 (2002). While the appeal was pending, the State filed a new indictment that restated the charges from the original indictment but added the following counts: count XIII (victim 60 years or older), count XIV (brutal or heinous behavior), count XV (section 9- 1(b)(6) aggravating factor (murder committed during forcible felony) (720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(6) (West 1998))), and count XVI (section 9-1(b)(16) aggravating factor (the victim was over 60 and the acts were brutal or heinous) (720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(16) (West 1998))).

At trial, the State presented Barbara Johnson, who testified that she knew defendant since she was a child. According to Johnson, defendant came to her house in July 1999. At that time, Mendi Toth, Johnson's roommate; Jeff Holmes, Johnson's boyfriend; and Earl Harris, Holmes's friend, were at Johnson's house. Johnson stated that defendant, Holmes, and Harris went to get marijuana, then came back. When the three got back, Johnson told defendant she heard that he wanted to do something illegal to make some money. Over objection by defense counsel, Johnson testified defendant asked her if she knew where he could get a gun and she responded that she did and that she knew where they could possibly get some money. Johnson told defendant that a man named "Pete" supposedly had a lot of money. Defendant, Johnson, Holmes, and Harris drove to "Pete's" house, and Godels was standing outside. Johnson and defendant agreed that if they got any money, they would split it.

Over objection from defense counsel, Johnson testified that from Godels's house, the group went to Billee Weston's house to see about getting a gun. Weston did not give Johnson a gun. The group then went back to Johnson's and agreed to meet later when it was dark to rob Godels. Everyone returned to Johnson's when it was dark. Defendant asked if he was wearing dark enough clothes. The group smoked marijuana and then Holmes, Johnson, and defendant left for Westville in defendant's car. In the backseat of defendant's car, Johnson noticed a crowbar, masking tape, and a black ski mask. When they arrived at Godels's residence, Johnson was to go to the door because Godels knew her and would let her inside. After getting out of the car, Johnson turned around because she got scared. Defendant got mad and began hitting the dashboard of the car. Defendant eventually drove them back to Johnson's house. At Johnson's house, defendant told Johnson he would "do it with or without [her]."

Holmes testified to a similar version of events. He added that after he heard about Godels's murder, he asked defendant if he went back to Westville and defendant responded "your girlfriend's a[] *** liar" and "I killed a man for nothing." Harris also testified, and his version of the initial trip to Westville was substantially the same as Holmes's and Johnson's versions.

Edgar Newton testified that he was Godels's friend and former tenant but had moved out before Godels was murdered. Newton knew Johnson, as well as Henry Graham, a co-defendant. Gary Beauchamp testified he was Godels's friend and had built the house in which Godels was living.

Michelle Carlton, defendant's former girlfriend and mother of his children, testified that she lived with defendant in 1999. One evening in July, defendant, wearing only his boxers and undershirt, came to bed unusually quiet. Carlton asked him why he was home so early and he stated he was trying to make some quick cash by selling drugs, but he got scared and gave the drugs away. Later, Carlton noticed defendant's dark tennis shoes were missing.

Carlton further testified that after that night, they were at defendant's mother's house and defendant was in a big hurry to get home to watch the news, which was unusual. The news ran a story about a man murdered in Westville, and defendant laughed at the television and said "they don't have any leads, they don't know what they are talking about." Carlton asked defendant how he would know that, and defendant responded "they never know what they're doing." Later that evening, a man Carlton had never seen came to talk to defendant. After the man spoke with defendant, he returned panicked, saying he was going to his dad's in Maryland. When Carlton asked defendant what was wrong, he responded "I killed that man" and pointed toward the television.

Carlton also relayed a conversation she had with defendant before he was arrested in which he described how he had pounded on the dashboard in his car because he was mad that the robbery had not yielded any money.

Carlton had testified in front of the grand jury that defendant was either with her or Chad Cooper all night but admitted at trial that she had lied to the grand jury. After Carlton testified for the grand jury, she talked to defendant at the jail, and he told her that Holmes and Johnson had told him about Godels. According to Carlton, defendant stated the plan had been that he and Holmes would rob Godels but that defendant ended up robbing Godels by himself. Defendant later told Carlton that Henry Graham had been with him and Graham hit Godels while they both demanded money. Defendant stated Graham continued to hit Godels while defendant searched the house. Defendant told Carlton he had a ski mask, crowbar, and duct tape and Graham had a gun. According to Carlton, defendant stated he burned the clothes he wore when he went to Godels's residence.

Carlton testified that defendant had a gang tattoo on his back that says "GD gang." Carlton believed defendant and Graham were in the same gang.

The State also presented defendant's grand jury testimony to the jury. Defendant's grand jury testimony indicated he had a girlfriend, Michelle Carlton, but he did not know Barbara Johnson, Jeff Holmes, Mendi Toth, or Earl Harris. Defendant claimed he never went to Westville the week Godels was killed. Further, defendant stated that the entire day and night of the ...

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