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People v. Thompkins

September 28, 2007

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
WILLIE THOMPKINS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable John A. Wasilewski, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice O'mara Frossard

Published opinion

The defendant Willie Thompkins appeals the December 8, 2004, order of the circuit court of Cook County sentencing him to two concurrent natural life sentences for the murders of Gerald Holton and Arthur Sheppard. We are asked to consider whether then-Governor Ryan's commutation order which removed the sentencing consequence of capital punishment from defendant's previously imposed death sentence also removed the requirement of a mandatory natural life sentence under section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c) of the Unified Code of Corrections (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)(1)(c)). The circuit court ruled that the commutation order did not remove the requirement of a mandatory natural life sentence and conducted a new sentencing hearing after which defendant was resentenced to two concurrent terms of natural life. Defendant challenges his sentence to natural life imprisonment which was imposed after the resentencing hearing. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

This case has been the subject of four Illinois Supreme Court decisions. The facts leading up to defendant's arrest are detailed in People v. Thompkins, 191 Ill. 2d 438 (2000) (Thompkins IV) and are only briefly summarized in the following paragraph.

On December 23, 1980, the bodies of Gerald Holton and Arthur Sheppard were found lying outside in an unincorporated area near Markham, Illinois. Both men died from gunshot wounds to the head. The record reflects that on December 22, 1980, defendant's sister-in-law, Pamela Thompkins, arranged to purchase some cocaine from the victims. The victims brought cocaine to Pamela's home and placed it on a table in the basement, where Ronnie Moore and Sandra Douglas were seated. Defendant appeared with a gun and told the victims, "Put *** your hands on the table. This is the police." Defendant and Moore then tied the victims with a telephone cord. According to Douglas, a few hours later while she and Pamela were upstairs in the home, she heard gunshots in the basement. She then saw a body being dragged to the garage and saw Moore take Sheppard outside. Defendant later called Douglas and instructed her to clean up the bloody basement. Upon his arrest, defendant gave an oral statement to police in which he admitted his participation in the murders, but attempted to shift the blame to Moore. Thompkins, 191 Ill. 2d at 442 (Thompkins IV). Defendant was found guilty by a jury of the two murders and sentenced to death.

The procedural history up through People v. Thompkins, 181 Ill. 2d 1 (1998) (Thompkins III),is summarized in Thompkins, 191 Ill. 2d 438 (Thompkins IV) and will be repeated here only as is necessary to give context to the issues in the instant case.

After defendant was sentenced to death for the murders of Holton and Sheppard he appealed. On direct appeal, to our supreme court, the defendant's convictions and death sentence were affirmed. People v. Thompkins, 121 Ill. 2d 401 (1988) (Thompkins I).

On post-conviction review, an evidentiary hearing was ordered on defendant's claim that he was denied effective assistance of counsel at his sentencing hearing because his counsel failed to adequately investigate and present mitigating evidence. People v. Thompkins, 161 Ill. 2d 148 (1994) (Thompkins II). The circuit court conducted the evidentiary hearing and concluded that defendant was not denied effective assistance of counsel at sentencing. Defendant appealed and argued that the circuit court erred during the evidentiary hearing by refusing to allow defendant to make several offers of proof, by leaving the bench during another offer of proof, and by ordering defendant's offers of proof to be stricken from the record. Thompkins, 181 Ill. 2d at 9 (Thompkins III). The Illinois Supreme Court ordered that the evidentiary hearing be reopened and retained jurisdiction over the case. Thompkins, 181 Ill. 2d at 23-24 (Thompkins III).

On remand, the circuit court held an evidentiary hearing and found there was significant and relevant mitigation evidence that had not been offered by trial counsel at the sentencing hearing in 1982. The circuit court found that this mitigation evidence could have been presented to the sentencing judge to demonstrate that defendant was " 'a good son, husband, father, friend, and worker'; that defendant 'may have helped save the life of a youth officer who later became the Chief of Police of Markham'; and that defendant 'was kind to women and protective of them.' " Thompkins, 191 Ill. 2d at 468 (Thompkins IV). The circuit court, however, concluded that defendant received effective assistance of counsel at his initial sentencing hearing.

Thompkins, 191 Ill. 2d at 468 (Thompkins IV).

On direct appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, defendant argued that "the facts presented at the evidentiary hearing establish[ed] that [defendant] was deprived of his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel at his sentencing hearing" because "the evidentiary hearing showed that his counsel failed to adequately investigate and present mitigating evidence." Thompkins, 191 Ill. 2d at 468 (Thompkins IV). The Illinois Supreme Court agreed, vacated defendant's death sentence and remanded to the circuit court for a new sentencing hearing. Thompkins, 191 Ill. 2d at 477 (Thompkins IV). However, the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the sentencing judge's finding that defendant was still eligible for the death penalty. Thompkins, 191 Ill. 2d at 477 (Thompkins IV).

On January 10, 2003, before defendant was resentenced, then-Governor George Ryan granted clemency to all Illinois inmates who had been sentenced to death and to all those awaiting possible death sentencing. The commutation order stated as follows:

"Sentence Commuted to a Sentence Other Than Death for the Crime of Murder, So that the Maximum Sentence that may be Imposed is Natural Life Imprisonment Without the Possibility of Parole or Mandatory Supervised Release."

The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of this order in People ex rel. Madigan v. Snyder, 208 Ill. 2d 457 (2004). After the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed this order, the circuit court conducted a sentencing hearing on December 8, 2004. Defendant's resentencing hearing is the subject of the instant appeal.

RESENTENCING HEARING

Before defendant was resentenced he filed a motion arguing that the language of the governor's clemency order specifically superseded section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c) of the Unified Code of Corrections thereby allowing the possibility that defendant might be sentenced to a term of years rather than natural life without parole. However, defendant conceded that other portions of the statute were left intact and, therefore, the judge was still bound to sentence defendant to a term of 20 to 40 years. The judge stated that, under defendant's interpretation of the commutation order, the Governor had delegated his clemency power to the judiciary to use its discretion instead of imposing the sentence mandated by statute, and if that was the case then what the Governor did was unconstitutional. The judge, therefore, concluded that defendant's interpretation was incorrect given the holding in Madigan. Accordingly, the judge found that the ...


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