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People v. Walton

October 17, 2007


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 03CR16347 The Honorable Christopher J. Donnelly, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Greiman

Following a bench trial, defendant Romaris Walton was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and sentenced to 32 years' imprisonment. On appeal, defendant asserts that (1) he was denied effective assistance of counsel and due process of law when trial counsel usurped his right to decide whether to seek a conviction on the lesser mitigated offense of second degree murder, and instead proceeded with an all-or-nothing defense; and (2) his second conviction for first degree murder must be vacated because it violates the one-act, one-crime doctrine. We affirm as modified.

Defendant was charged with intentional murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 2002)) and knowing murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 2002)) in connection with the stabbing death of Kenneth Taylor on July 9, 2003. Defendant waived his right to a jury trial and elected a bench trial, where he advanced the theory of self-defense.

The following evidence was adduced at defendant's bench trial. Johnnie Brown testified that on July 7, 2003, she met defendant, who introduced himself as "William," and learned that he needed a place to stay. At the time, she was living with Taylor, her common law husband, in a two-bedroom apartment located at 14516 Muskegon in Burnham, Illinois. Brown and Taylor agreed to permit defendant to stay with them, and defendant moved in that day.

On July 9, 2003, defendant returned to Brown and Taylor's apartment from a nearby construction site. Brown let him in and then joined Taylor in their bedroom. She went to check on defendant shortly thereafter and discovered that he was smoking crack cocaine in the living room. Brown had seen defendant use drugs in her apartment before and asked him not to bring drugs into her apartment. This time, Brown ordered defendant to leave the apartment and he complied.

Shortly thereafter, Brown left the apartment to go to the store. Taylor remained in the apartment. When Brown returned to the apartment later that evening, she found that all of the lights were turned off and a sheet was covering the window. There were also bloodstains on the walls and floors throughout the apartment. She looked for Taylor and ultimately found him lying motionless on the floor in the bedroom. Because she did not have a phone in her apartment, Brown ran to a neighbor's apartment to call the police.

Brown acknowledged that during her 12-year relationship with Taylor, he had physically abused her on a number of occasions. She called the police at least four times, and the police filed charges against Taylor. Each time, however, the charges were dropped. On no occasion had Taylor ever "pulled a knife" on her.

Doctor Scott Denton, a forensic pathologist and the deputy chief medical examiner at the Cook County medical examiner's officer, performed an autopsy on Taylor and discovered approximately 90 stab wounds on his body. The majority of the wounds were superficial; however, "some of them were pretty deep." There were multiple wounds to Taylor's head, neck, and upper back, which were consistent with someone stabbing Taylor from above. In addition, some of the wounds were inflicted horizontally, while others were inflicted vertically, indicating movement between the victim and the assailant. Denton classified Taylor's death as a homicide. In addition, Denton testified that a toxicology report revealed that Taylor's blood contained carbon monoxide, which is common in smokers, as well as a cocaine breakdown product.

Sergeant John Daley was on patrol duty on July 9, 2003. He received a call shortly after 7:30 p.m. and was directed to 14516 Muskegon, apartment 2-C. Upon entering the apartment, he found Johnnie Brown, sitting in a chair, screaming and crying. He also found blood "everywhere," including the floor, walls, carpet, and blinds. Sergeant Daley also discovered Taylor's body on the bedroom floor. He approached the body and found "absolutely no signs of life."

After securing the scene, Sergeant Daley, along with another officer, walked outside the residence. In the rear of the property, they recovered a bag containing bloody clothing and shoes from the Dumpster. The parties stipulated that the blood on the shoe was compared to a blood sample taken from Taylor and was found to be "consistent with [Taylor's] DNA profile."

Sergeant Kevin Urbanek was assigned to the tactical division on July 9, 2003. At approximately 7:36 p.m., he was directed to pick up a carjacking victim from St. Margaret's Hospital. He met with defendant and interviewed him at the police department. Defendant identified himself as "Kingsley Lemon" and informed Sergeant Urbanek that he had been approached by two males who "pulled a weapon on him" because defendant owed one of the men money. The assailants ordered defendant to take off his clothes and defendant complied. The two men then drove off in his vehicle and defendant ran away until he collapsed on the lawn of a residence located at 1075 Breclaw Drive. Following defendant's narrative, Sergeant Urbanek wrote a report concerning the incident, and defendant signed the report, verifying its authenticity.

On July 9, 2003, Detective Paul Hurckes was assigned to investigate Taylor's homicide. In connection with the assignment, he interviewed defendant at approximately 11:15 p.m. Defendant did not identify himself as Romaris Walton, but provided a different name. Defendant initially informed Detective Hurckes that he had been carjacked, but later confessed he had been involved in the stabbing death of Taylor. Detective Hurckes informed defendant of his rights and defendant signed a preprinted form indicating he understood his rights. Defendant subsequently informed Detective Hurckes that his real name was Romaris Walton.

Detective Hurckes interviewed defendant again the following day at approximately 11:06 a.m. Following the interview, Detective Hurckes took defendant to the 2700 block of Goodrich to recover the knife defendant used in the stabbing. He found the knife in the place indicated by defendant. The parties stipulated that the knife contained a bloodstain, which was compared to a blood sample taken from Taylor. The bloodstain on the knife was found to be "consistent" with Taylor's DNA profile.

On July 11, 2003, Assistant State's Attorney (ASA) Tim Felgenhauer, a member of the felony review team, met with Detective Hurckes, who informed him about the stabbing. He interviewed Brown and then went to speak with defendant. ASA Felgenhauer introduced himself and informed defendant of his Miranda rights from a preprinted form. Defendant acknowledged his rights, provided his initials beside each right, signed the form, and agreed to discuss his role in Taylor's death. After concluding the interview, ASA Felgenhauer asked ...

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