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People v. Mata

August 1, 2006


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Boone County. No. 98--CF--110 Honorable Gerald F. Grubb, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gilleran Johnson

Following a jury trial, the defendant, Bernina Mata, was convicted of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9--1(a)(2) (West 1998)). The same jury found the defendant eligible for the death penalty pursuant to section 9--1(b)(11) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (the Criminal Code) (720 ILCS 5/9--1(b)(11) (West 1998)) and determined that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude the imposition of that sentence. Subsequently, the trial court sentenced the defendant to death. The defendant directly appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, raising nine contentions. On January 11, 2003, former Governor George Ryan commuted the defendant's death sentence to a term of natural life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Upon her appeal being transferred to this court, the defendant filed a motion requesting to withdraw eight of her contentions. We granted this motion. The defendant's sole remaining contention was that she was entitled to a new sentencing hearing because the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was eligible for the death penalty in that she committed murder in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner. In light of the fact that the defendant's death sentence had been commuted, we dismissed the defendant's appeal as moot.

See People v. Mata, 353 Ill. App. 3d 784 (2004).

On December 15, 2005, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the judgment of this court, reasoning that the defendant's contention did not concern her sentence. See People v. Mata, 217 Ill. 2d 535 (2005). Rather, pursuant to Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 147 L.Ed. 2d 435, 120 S.Ct. 2348 (2000), the defendant's contention concerned the sufficiency of proof on a "functional equivalent" of an element of the offense of which she was convicted. The supreme court remanded the cause with the direction that we consider the merits of the defendant's contention. See Mata, 217 Ill. 2d at 551-52.

Upon remand to this court, the defendant requested leave to file a supplemental brief raising the additional argument that due to several errors of constitutional magnitude, she was denied a fair sentencing hearing. We granted the defendant's motion. We now address the merits of the defendant's two contentions on appeal: (1) whether the defendant was proved eligible for the death penalty beyond a reasonable doubt and (2) whether the defendant was denied a fair sentencing hearing due to inadequate jury instructions and misleading arguments by the State.


The facts relevant to this appeal are as follows. Following a jury trial in October 1999, the defendant was convicted of first degree murder (720 ILCS 9--1(a)(2) (West 1998)), in connection with the stabbing death of John Draheim. At the trial, Russell Grundmeier testified that in June 1998, the defendant was his roommate. At that time, Russell was in love with the defendant and believed that the defendant was in love with him. Russell and the defendant had a sexual relationship. However, the defendant had informed Russell that she was a lesbian, and the two of them had an understanding that the defendant could have sex with women.

On the evening of June 27, 1998, Russell and the defendant went to Sporty's bar in Belvidere to celebrate Russell's birthday. Around 7 p.m., Russell dropped off the defendant at the bar and then left to pick up some Listerine for the defendant's newly-pierced tongue, which needed to be rinsed every hour. Russell returned to the bar around 7:15 p.m. and found the defendant sitting with a man she introduced as John.

Russell remained at the bar until 10 p.m. While he was there, the defendant was drinking heavily, flirting, and walking around. Before he left the bar, the defendant walked over to Russell and whispered to him that she was going to kill John and that he was going to help. The defendant's tone of voice was angry. Russell responded that he was not going to help. The defendant sat down next to John, and Russell left the bar soon after.

Russell arrived home around 10:15 p.m. The defendant arrived home 15 to 20 minutes later, with James Clark, a neighbor of theirs, and John. The four of them talked and, with the exception of James, drank alcohol. James left after about 20 minutes. The defendant and John sat on the couch and flirted with each other. Russell got mad and went outside because he thought that he was supposed to be the only guy the defendant was with. When Russell eventually went back inside, he heard moaning coming from the defendant's bedroom.

Russell went into the defendant's room. The defendant and John were having what appeared to be consensual sex. Russell grabbed John by the arm and pulled him off of the defendant. The two men struggled and the defendant slipped off the bed and out of sight. Russell, who weighed around 300 pounds, was able to get control of John, who weighed only about 180 pounds. As Russell was holding John, the defendant appeared with a knife and stabbed John in the chest several times. Russell was shocked and sickened. However, he eventually helped the defendant dispose of John's body and clean up her bloodstained bedroom.

Detective Kurt Ditzler of the Winnebago County sheriff's police*fn1 testified that he interviewed the defendant regarding John's disappearance. During the first interview, the defendant stated that on June 27, 1998, she was at Sporty's bar for her roommate Russell's birthday. She struck up a conversation at the bar with a man named John, whom she had seen in the bar on prior occasions. The defendant stated that John had given her a ride home and ended up coming inside. John left at approximately 11:30 p.m. During the second interview, the defendant admitted that she had stabbed John in her apartment on June 27. The defendant claimed that she did so because John was trying to rape her. During a third interview, the defendant admitted that John had not tried to rape her. The defendant maintained that she and John never had sex.

Deputy Daniel Liston of the Winnebago County sheriff's police testified that he searched the defendant's room, pursuant to her consent. Deputy Liston found stains that appeared to be blood on the bedroom closet doors, two pillow cases, and two towels. The stains tested positive for blood. Deputy Liston also testified that a decomposed body, later determined through dental records to be John, was found on July 13, 1998, in a secluded wooded area in Winnebago County.

Inspector Dexter Bartlett, a crime scene investigator with the Illinois State Police, was qualified as an expert in bloodstain analysis. Inspector Bartlett testified that he assisted in the investigation of the scene of the stabbing. Inspector Bartlett testified that there were six bloodstains on the closet doors he examined. Inspector Bartlett opined that based on the cast-off patterns of the blood spatters, the victim had been stabbed a minimum of six times. According to Inspector Bartlett, Russell's version of the events was consistent with the blood spatters found.

Dr. Larry Blum, a forensic pathologist engaged in private practice, testified that he performed an autopsy on John. Dr. Blum testified that a stab wound to the chest caused John's death. John suffered a minimum of three stab wounds, all of which penetrated the heart. Because the body was badly deteriorated, Dr. ...

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