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The People of the State of Illinois v. Lorell Johnson

December 10, 2010


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County 05 CR 4414 Honorable Rosemary Higgins-Grant, Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McBRIDE

JUSTICE McBRIDE delivered the opinion of the court: Pursuant to the supervisory order issued by the Illinois Supreme Court in People v. Johnson, 237 Ill. 2d 574 (2010), we vacated our previous opinion and reconsider our decision in light of People v. Williams, 238 Ill. 2d 125 (2010).

Following a jury trial which included deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) evidence, defendant Lorell Johnson was found guilty of aggravated criminal sexual assault and not guilty of aggravated kidnaping and the trial court sentenced him to a term of 30 years to run consecutive to defendant's prior conviction. Defendant appeals, arguing that the admission of inculpatory DNA evidence violated his sixth amendment confrontation rights and that the trial court erred in admitting this DNA evidence because a sufficient foundation was not established for the forensic scientist's opinion testimony.

The following evidence was admitted at defendant's jury trial. Shortly after midnight on July 12, 2003, the victim, F.F., was standing in line at Maxwell's, a neighborhood hot dog stand on the south side of Chicago. At the time, F.F. was addicted to drugs. Defendant approached F.F. as she stood in line. F.F. had never seen defendant before that moment. F.F. and defendant spoke. He told her that he had drugs at his house. F.F. got out of the line and followed defendant to get the drugs. She followed him down an alley into the backyard of an abandoned building.

F.F. wanted to leave, but defendant grabbed her body and dragged her up the stairs of the building to the top floor. F.F. yelled, "stop," and "no," but defendant continued to carry her up the stairs. F.F. scraped her arm on the railing while trying to reach for it.

When they reached the top of the stairs, defendant pulled F.F. into a dark room and threw her against the wall. F.F. hit her head on a low part of the ceiling. He pushed her against the window, put his hand around her throat and told her to be quiet or he would throw her out the window. Defendant pulled down F.F.'s pants and then his own pants. He then had vaginal intercourse with F.F. F.F. described the assault as violent and that he "jammed" his penis into her vagina. Defendant removed his penis from F.F.'s vagina, turned to the side and ejaculated on the floor.

Defendant then pulled up his pants and ran down the stairs. F.F. waited until she could no longer hear defendant on the stairs. She left and went to the nearest pay phone at 51st Street and Ashland to call the police. She saw defendant running across the street and pointed him out to a group of nearby men, who then chased defendant. When the police arrived at F.F.'s location, she was incoherent, screaming and pointing in several directions. A police officer suggested she seek treatment for the scrape on her arm that was bleeding. F.F. refused and tried to tell the police that defendant was running by across the street, but the officer did not give chase and the group of men did not catch him. F.F. led the police officer to the abandoned building and told him that defendant had ejaculated on the floor. The officer called for an evidence technician to come to the scene and recover the stain. The stain was recovered on two swabs and was later submitted for biological testing. F.F. became frustrated with the police officer because she felt he was not trying to catch defendant so she left the scene and stayed with a friend for several days.

Later, in 2004, F.F. entered a drug rehabilitation facility. In January 2005, a detective located F.F. at the facility. The detective spoke with F.F. about the sexual assault. After receiving information from the Illinois State Police crime lab (ISP lab), defendant was arrested. F.F. viewed a lineup at Area One and immediately identified defendant as the man who sexually assaulted her.

During the trial, defendant's attorney filed a "Motion in limine to Exclude Testimony of Reviewing Expert as Lacking Foundation and Improper Hearsay." The motion asserted that the State would seek to introduce DNA evidence through an analyst, Charlotte Word, who had reviewed the file, but did not participate in any of the actual testing. Defense counsel argued that "[i]ntroduction of this evidence solely through this witness fails to lay a proper foundation for the testing conditions and procedures" and "violates defendant's rights to confrontation" under the sixth amendment and article I, section 8, of the Illinois Constitution. The trial court heard argument on the motion and denied the motion. The court held that the testimony about the DNA profile was admissible if it was the sort of information reasonably relied on by experts in the field.

Charlotte Word testified as a DNA analysis expert. Defendant made no objection to her qualification as an expert. She stated that she worked at Orchid Cellmark in Germantown, Maryland, from 1990 to 2005, when the facility closed. In 2004, Cellmark had a contract with the ISP lab to complete overflow testing. Cellmark was accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks and by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. Word worked as a laboratory director in 2004.

Word stated that she did not participate in the testing of the swab recovered from the crime scene and the preparation of a DNA profile, but she was able to testify as to the results. Her testimony was based on her review of the notes and documentation kept in the lab folder. She said that through her review of the case file, she was able to determine that the proper procedures were followed with the appropriate control tests. The results showed a single male donor of the semen from the swab. Based on her independent review, Word concluded that the results were correct. She observed no discrepancies in the case folder.

The results and the swab were sent to the ISP lab. Following defendant's arrest, a buccal swab was taken from defendant and sent to the ISP lab for testing. ISP lab forensic scientist Brian Schoon testified at trial that he received defendant's buccal swab in June 2005. He performed tests and prepared a DNA profile from the buccal swab. Schoon compared defendant's DNA profile with the single male donor DNA profile obtained from the swab and concluded that the profiles matched. Schoon conducted a statistical analysis and found that the DNA profile from the swab would be expected to occur in 1 in 710 quadrillion black, 1 in 550 quadrillion white or 1 in 430 quadrillion Hispanic individuals. Schoon stated all of his results and conclusions were to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty.

Defendant did not offer any evidence in his case-in-chief. Following deliberations, the jury found defendant guilty of aggravated criminal sexual assault and not guilty of aggravated kidnaping. Defendant filed a motion for a new trial, which included claims that the trial court erred in overruling defense counsel's objections for foundation and confrontation to the testimony about the Cellmark DNA profile. The trial court denied the motion and ...

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