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People v. O'Connell

November 29, 2007

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN O'CONNELL, APPELLEE.



JUSTICE KILBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Chief Justice Thomas and Justices Freeman, Fitzgerald, Garman, Karmeier, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

In attempting to raise an actual-innocence claim, defendant, John O'Connell, filed a pro se motion for DNA testing pursuant to section 116--3 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) (725 ILCS 5/116--3 (West 2002)). The circuit court of Cook County denied defendant's motion. The appellate court reversed the trial court's order denying defendant's motion for DNA testing and remanded the cause for further proceedings. 365 Ill. App. 3d 872. This court allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 315 (210 Ill. 2d R. 315). We now vacate the judgment of the appellate court and affirm the trial court's denial of defendant's pro se motion to allow DNA testing.

BACKGROUND

Defendant, John O'Connell, pled guilty to three counts of first degree murder, two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, and one count of armed robbery. Prior to accepting defendant's guilty plea, the trial court admonished defendant that he had the right to a jury trial and to present a defense. Defendant told the trial judge that he understood his rights but wished to waive them and plead guilty.

The stipulated factual basis informed the court that at noon on September 7, 1990, defendant entered a flower shop where the 64-year-old victim worked. Defendant sexually assaulted the victim, beat her, stabbed her in the stomach, stole money from the cash register, and fled. Defendant was later arrested near the scene.

At the time he was arrested, defendant had blood on his underwear, shirt, and hands, and money from the flower shop in his pants' pocket. A blood-covered knife was found in defendant's van. Later that same day, defendant made an inculpatory statement. The victim suffered severe injuries and, six days later, died of complications.

The trial court admonished defendant of the possible sentences, including the potential death sentence. Defendant told the court he still wanted to plead guilty. The trial court accepted defendant's guilty plea and sentenced defendant to concurrent terms of natural life imprisonment for three counts of murder, two extended-term sentences of 60 years for each count of aggravated criminal sexual assault, and 30 years' imprisonment for armed robbery.

Defendant subsequently filed a motion to reconsider the sentence but told the trial court he did not want to withdraw his guilty plea. The trial court did not reduce defendant's sentence, and defendant appealed. The appellate court affirmed. People v. O'Connell, No. 1--93--0200 (1995) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

Defendant later filed a pro se post-conviction petition alleging his extended-term sentences violated Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 147 L.Ed. 2d. 435, 120 S.Ct. 2348 (2000). The trial court dismissed the petition. The appellate court affirmed the circuit court's summary dismissal of defendant's post-conviction petition, but ordered the trial court to correct the mittimus to reflect a single conviction for first degree murder. People v. O'Connell, No. 1--01--0421 (2002) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

After his direct appeal and post-conviction proceedings, defendant filed the instant pro se motion to allow DNA testing pursuant to section 116--3 of the Code (725 ILCS 5/116--3 (West 2002)). Section 116--3 allows a defendant to make a motion for fingerprint or forensic testing "not available at the time of trial" when "identity was the issue in the trial" resulting in defendant's conviction. 725 ILCS 5/116--3(a), (b) (West 2002).

The trial court denied defendant's motion for DNA testing. The trial court reasoned that defendant failed to establish a prima facie case for DNA testing because "identity was not at issue at trial" when defendant pled guilty. The trial court subsequently denied defendant's motion to reconsider, and defendant appealed.

The appellate court reversed the trial court's denial of defendant's motion for DNA testing and remanded for further proceedings. 365 Ill. App. 3d 872. The appellate court held that section 116--3 does not allow for summary dismissal of motions for DNA testing. The appellate court also held that any error was not harmless because counsel may have been able to argue persuasively that identity was at issue at trial, despite defendant's guilty plea. The State timely ...


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