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The People of the State of Illinois v. Aurelia Gonzalez

January 21, 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
APPELLANT,
v.
AURELIA GONZALEZ,
APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Kilbride

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

Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

The issue in this appeal is whether the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant "secretly confined" the victim within the meaning of the aggravated kidnapping statute. See 720 ILCS 5/10--1(a)(1), 10--2(a)(2) (West 2006). Following a jury trial, the circuit court of Cook County convicted defendant of aggravated kidnapping. A majority of the appellate court reversed defendant's conviction, finding that the State failed to prove secret confinement beyond a reasonable doubt. 392 Ill. App. 3d 323. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the appellate court's judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

The State charged defendant, Aurelia Gonzalez, with unlawful restraint and two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one count based on secret confinement and the other count based on the threat or use of force. The aggravated kidnapping charge based on secret confinement alleged that on March 2, 2006, defendant knowingly and secretly confined the victim, R.O., a child under the age of 13 years, against her will (720 ILCS 5/10--2(a)(2) (West 2006)).

At defendant's jury trial, the State presented the testimony of the victim's parents, Joel and Mirabel Oceguera. The victim, a female, was born on February 4, 2006. Approximately three weeks later, on the day of the underlying incident, Joel and Mirabel took their infant daughter with them to Joel's doctor appointment at Fantus Clinic in Stroger Hospital. After arriving, they sat in a large waiting room with about 100 other people. Mirabel saw defendant, whom Mirabel recognized from their neighborhood, in the waiting room. Defendant approached Mirabel and sat down next to her, although Mirabel did not invite her to do so. Defendant asked Mirabel about her baby's gender, age, and the hospital where she was born. Mirabel answered defendant's questions. Mirabel did not allow defendant to touch or hold the baby.

A woman sitting nearby asked defendant if she was pregnant, and defendant replied affirmatively. Defendant claimed to be between seven and eight months pregnant. Both Joel and Mirabel thought defendant appeared pregnant, but they could not see defendant's abdomen because she was wearing a coat.

Eventually, Joel was called to see the doctor. Mirabel and the baby went with Joel to the doctor's office. After the doctor visit, Joel, Mirabel, and their baby returned to the waiting room to wait for a referral order. Defendant was still in the waiting room. At some point, Mirabel left the waiting room to talk on her cellular phone, leaving the baby with Joel.

At about 3:30 p.m., Joel was called to the reception area to complete paperwork and receive his referral order. Joel took the baby with him to wait in line, but the baby was fussing and crying. Defendant approached Joel, offering to hold the baby while he completed the paperwork. Joel agreed and gave the baby to defendant. After Joel finished his paperwork, he looked for defendant and his baby, but could not find them. Joel exited the waiting room area and unsuccessfully searched for defendant and his baby inside the hospital. Joel left the hospital and went outside to continue his search. An unidentified person told Joel that a woman had recently left with a baby and pointed Joel in the direction the woman had gone.

In the meantime, Mirabel returned to the waiting room and discovered that Joel and the baby were gone. Mirabel called Joel, who informed her that he could not find their baby and was searching for the baby outside. Mirabel left the hospital and called 911 to report that her baby was missing.

As Mirabel exited the hospital, she saw a police vehicle on the street. Mirabel flagged the vehicle down and told the police officers that someone had taken her baby. The officers radioed the information to the police station. Mirabel got inside the police vehicle and rode with the officers as they searched the area. During their search, the officers received a radio dispatch that a possible suspect had been apprehended at Rush University Medical Center (Rush), about two blocks away. The officers drove Mirabel to Rush. Upon entering Rush, Mirabel saw an officer holding her baby. The baby was wrapped in a white baby towel with pink trim that did not belong to her.

Damien Hopkins, a Rush security guard, was assigned to the emergency room on the day of the incident. At about 3:45 p.m., or approximately 15 minutes after the baby went missing from Fantus Clinic, Hopkins observed defendant holding a baby in a restricted area inside the Rush emergency room. The baby was wrapped in a white and pink blanket and was crying.

Suspicious of defendant being in the restricted area, Hopkins approached her and asked if she was okay. Defendant appeared nervous and did not respond to Hopkins. Instead, defendant walked away. Hopkins followed her, repeatedly asking her to stop. Defendant did not respond and continued to walk away from Hopkins, increasing her speed as Hopkins followed. Defendant tried to board an elevator, but was unsuccessful, and Hopkins was able to stop her. Defendant indicated she did not speak English, produced a $20 bill, and waived it in Hopkins' face. Hopkins then asked for assistance from a nurse standing ...


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