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The People of the State of Illinois v. Teodoro Baez

February 25, 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
APPELLEE,
v.
TEODORO BAEZ,
APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Garman

Opinion

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

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

Justice Theis took no part in the decision.

OPINION

Defendant Teodoro Baez pleaded guilty to the murders of Juan Estrada and Janet Mena. The circuit court of Cook County found defendant eligible for the death penalty and, after weighing the evidence in aggravation and mitigation, sentenced defendant to death. On October 18, 2005, this court remanded the cause to allow defendant to file a late motion to withdraw his guilty plea. After an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court denied defendant's motion. His appeal lies directly to this court under Supreme Court Rule 603 (Ill. S. Ct. R. 603 (eff. Oct. 1, 2010)). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm his sentence.

BACKGROUND

The following background facts are drawn from the stipulated testimony in support of the factual basis for defendant's plea of guilty. On August 6, 1999, the body of Juan Estrada was discovered in a grassy area at 3542 West Carroll Street in Chicago. Estrada's legs were missing. On August 9, 1999, a human leg was recovered from the Chicago River at West North Avenue. Another leg was found shortly thereafter, and a left arm was also found nearby. The legs were later matched to Estrada, and the arm was later matched to Janet Mena. On August 10, 1999, Mena's body was discovered in a vacant lot in at 1810 West Walnut in Chicago. The head and left arm had been severed and removed, but the head was found at the same location as the body. Mena's car was found parked near a restaurant in Berwyn on August 11, and Estrada's car was found at 3720 West Berteau in Chicago on August 12. Estrada's car had been ticketed at that location on August 10.

Dr. Joseph Lawrence Cogan, an assistant medical examiner, testified that he performed a post-mortem examination of Juan Estrada. According to Cogan, the amputation of Estrada's legs appeared to be post-mortem. Estrada's left shoulder had also been partially amputated. Cogan also found 24 incised wounds on Estrada's body. He explained that incised wounds are elongated cuts created when a sharp instrument is drawn along the cut surface. Sixteen of the incised wounds were on Estrada's head, while the others were concentrated in the arms. Cogan described the arm wounds as "defense-type wounds." Cogan also found 14 stab wounds, which differ from incised wounds in that they are "penetrating." The stab wounds were on various parts of Estrada's torso, chest, and back. Estrada had also been shot twice, once in the right chest and once in the right back. Cogan opined that the cause of death was multiple injuries due to an assault.

Cogan also performed a post-mortem on Janet Mena. Parts of Mena's body were "very decomposed." In particular, Cogan described Mena's head as "half skeletonized" and not "recognizable visually." A skull fracture on Mena's left side corresponded to a cut over her left ear, and Cogan opined that this was "some kind of a blow or chop injury with a sharp instrument." He also found evidence of a blunt force trauma to the left side of the head and possible evidence of strangulation. On Mena's body, Cogan found four stab wounds to the back, along with several smaller cuts that he associated with the amputation of the head and arm. He also identified a wound in the posterior vaginal area that was associated with increased insect activity. Cogan noted that this increased activity suggested the presence of bleeding, which would indicate that Mena was still alive when the wound was inflicted. He also noted, however, that the wound itself gave no indication of whether it had been inflicted before or after death.

Defendant's Statement

Defendant was interviewed on January 30, 2000, at Area 4 Headquarters in Chicago. The videotape of this interview was admitted into evidence at defendant's guilty plea and at his sentencing hearing. The tape includes defendant's waiver of his right to counsel and his right to remain silent, including full Miranda warnings.

Defendant stated that he had arranged to meet Juan Estrada at around midnight on August 5, 1999, to buy heroin. Defendant met Estrada at a gas station near defendant's home, and directed Estrada to drive to defendant's home. Defendant had never seen Estrada's female passenger, Janet Mena, before. When they arrived at defendant's apartment building, Estrada and defendant went up to defendant's apartment while Mena waited in the car.

Once in defendant's apartment, defendant tried to give Estrada money for heroin. However, Estrada refused to accept the money because defendant owed him approximately $1,000. According to defendant, Estrada became "hostile," calling defendant "bitch, asshole and punk." Defendant began to feel "discomfort" because defendant "didn't understand why he would not cooperate." Defendant also said that he felt "threatened by his words and his hostile body language," which defendant said consisted of "tightening or tensing up of the muscles" and "waving of the arms." However, defendant acknowledged that Estrada did not have any weapons on him, and that Estrada had done nothing threatening other than lifting his arms and yelling.

Defendant described what happened next: "At first I tried to negotiate with him and then when I felt negotiation was not possible, I reacted in a truly hostile manner and retrieved a small revolver, small caliber revolver from my waistband and shot Juan Estrada a couple of times." Defendant could not remember how many times he had shot Estrada, but he said that Estrada began to scream. Defendant told him to "shut up and be quiet." When defendant "felt that the gun was no longer useful," defendant took one of his swords down from the china cabinet in his apartment. Defendant explained, "I was in a fit of rage and I was, I was paranoid that the gun was making too much noise and I had chose [sic] to kill Mr. Estrada." When asked why he had decided to kill Estrada, defendant replied, "After I had shot him, I figured I was gonna die if I allowed him to live anyway because I was aware of his squad *** and I did not want him to send them after me."

Defendant stated that when he grabbed the sword, he intended to "[t]ake the life from Mr. Estrada," and he began "hacking and stabbing" Estrada "numerous times." "So many times," defendant claimed, "that I can't even count." While defendant was "chopping away at Juan Estrada," Estrada asked defendant why he was doing it. Defendant told Estrada it was "because he was trying to turn some members of our organization against me." According to defendant, Estrada was still standing when defendant began striking him with the sword, but he eventually fell to his knees, and defendant kicked him down onto the floor. When defendant believed Estrada was dead, he stopped stabbing him and began to wipe up Estrada's blood with some towels. Defendant told investigators that Estrada looked "gory," with "many slashes" to his head and hands and "stab wounds to his body." When asked why he had slashes on his hands, defendant explained that Estrada had tried to defend himself from the sword with his hands.

Once defendant had wiped up the blood around Estrada's body, he made himself "look presentable." He then went downstairs so that he could "coerce the female into coming into the apartment," because he was afraid that "she would be a witness to the last known place" of Estrada. He told Mena that Estrada "was gonna be awhile, would she like to come up," and she agreed. After defendant allowed Mena to use his bathroom, he asked her if she wanted a drink. Defendant explained that he "cunningly closed the door to keep her from observing Mr. Estrada's death." She accepted his offer of a drink, and when she turned her back defendant began to strangle her. Defendant told investigators that he "choked her until she was semi-conscious" and defendant "thought she was unable to defend for herself." He said that he tried to choke her "until she was dead"--at least three minutes--during which time "[s]he was saying her final prayers. She was asking for the Lord or Jesus in small moans and grunts." Defendant described what happened next: "And after *** I had got done choking her, I stood above her and seen that she was still squirming for air so I began to kick her around her upper vertebras of her spinal cord to induce death."

After kicking her neck, defendant dragged Mena into the bathroom. He then went back to Estrada and dragged him into the bathroom as well. He placed Estrada's body in the bathtub and began to run the water, "so that the blood could flush down the faucet." Mena, however, was still alive and had "turned her attention away from God and was then calling for Juan." Defendant picked Mena up and "threw her in the tub" on top of Estrada's body. According to defendant, Mena "still had some life in her." He then "stabbed her a couple of time hoping that her blood would also drain down the tub." "After a while," defendant took Mena out of the tub and stripped her naked. He then placed her head in the toilet and stabbed "her brain stem," flushing the toilet to allow "excess blood" to "drain down the toilet bowl."

Once he believed both victims were dead, defendant decided to "remove both victims' heads." Defendant stated that his intention was to dismember the bodies so that he could remove them from his apartment "in a manner which would not alert public eye attention." He began to "chop at" Mena's head with the sword, but "gave up before the task was done." He then turned to her arm. "When I got to the bone," defendant stated, "it was hard to break the bone so I left both of the victims in the restroom and searched for a different weapon and came back with a hacksaw and I sawed her off." He put Mena's arm into a garbage bag. He then loaded Mena's body into another garbage bag and placed that bag into a garbage can, which he put in his trunk. Defendant got into the car and drove around Chicago until he found a "suitable" place to dump the body at the corner of "Wood and Carroll Street." He took the bag containing Mena's body out and left it in the lot, and then he took the garbage can back to his apartment.

Back at his apartment, defendant got out a battery powered electric saw to dismember Estrada. Defendant said that he "chopped away" at Estrada's neck and right arm, but decided not to remove them. Instead, he decided to remove Estrada's legs, and he accomplished this using the hacksaw and the electric saw. He then put Estrada's body into the garbage can and covered his head with a garbage bag. Defendant loaded the garbage can into his car and found a place to dump Estrada's body near "Carroll Street and Sacramento."

Defendant then returned to his apartment and retrieved the limbs he had removed from the bodies, as well as "some other bags full of soiled articles." He took the bags to the Chicago River and tossed the limbs in one at a time. He then drove around dumping the other bags. Defendant then went back to the apartment again and retrieved Estrada's jewelry and the weapons, except the swords. These items, too, defendant discarded around town. With respect to the swords, defendant said, "I couldn't just throw them away because they're noticeable objects in the house cause they were decoration. And to just get rid of them all of a sudden would arouse suspicion." Instead, defendant's girlfriend took the swords to her cousin's house.

Pretrial Proceedings

Defendant's first claim of error on appeal relates to certain proceedings that occurred before any evidence was taken in this case. We review the relevant pretrial proceedings.

On March 16, 2000, defendant appeared in court accompanied by Charles Buchholz, an assistant public defender with the office's murder task force. On May 24, 2000, defendant appeared again, and the court indicated that defendant had mailed two letters directly to the court. The first letter was addressed to the court and requested the court's help in getting defendant into protective custody because he did not feel safe in the jail. Buchholz, again appearing with defendant, indicated that he had "taken care of that matter." The second letter was a copy of a letter defendant had sent to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) regarding Buchholz. When asked about the letter, defendant stated that he wanted to file a "motion for appointment of counsel other than a public defender."

The court indicated that defendant's letter appeared to be "basically" such a motion. The letter raised several complaints, and the court addressed each one in turn.

Defendant's complaint first alleged that Buchholz was not "truly versed in the law," because Buchholz had refused to file a "motion to arrest judgment" at defendant's request although a law librarian at the jail had told defendant such a motion was possible. Defendant's letter also complained that Buchholz had sent another attorney to court with defendant rather than appear himself, and no attorney had been to visit his loved ones. The court explained to defendant that there is no such thing as a "motion to arrest judgment." The court also explained that it is common for attorneys to appear on each other's behalf for some court appearances. Finally, the court told defendant that his attorneys were not required to visit his loved ones, but that they could make appointments to talk with the attorneys.

Defendant also alleged in his letter that Buchholz had threatened to kill him. According to the letter, defendant had complained to Buchholz that "some powerful Columbian drug lords and the Satan Disciple organization" had offered money to anyone who would kill defendant. Defendant claimed that Buchholz had asked how much was being offered, and then said, "We'll kill you if they are paying enough!" Defendant wrote that he was "astonished" and "could no longer trust" Buchholz. In court, Buchholz said that the ARDC had asked Buchholz to respond to defendant's allegation and he had done so. Buchholz also informed the court that the ARDC had indicated no further action would be taken. Defendant's letter to the ARDC also repeated the concerns about defendant's safety that he had raised in his letter to the court.

After reviewing the complaints raised in the letter, the following discussion occurred:

"THE COURT: Is there any other complaint that you would like to lodge against your attorney?

DEFENDANT: I just don't feel comfortable with Mr. Buchholz, and I prepared a formal written motion, but I guess we have taken care of that, verbally.

THE COURT: All right. Well, everything that you have just--what you allege in here are things that are not the basis of having another attorney. And, Mr. Baez, you have a right to an attorney, but not an attorney of your choosing. *** When you are appointed an attorney, and charged with murder, you are appointed someone who has worked on many murder cases on many occasions.

If Mr. Buchholz is not doing his job, then that is one thing. You can, certainly, bring that to my attention.

***

And as I said, Mr. Baez, if there is something, some other issue, other than the issues that I just put on the record, you can, certainly, share that with me.

DEFENDANT: No, ma'am, and I don't mean to turn your courtroom into a mockery or anything.

THE COURT: All right. Mr. Baez, it is just lack of knowledge. I am not holding that against you."

On July 6, 2000, just over one month after the above discussion, defendant appeared in court again, represented by Buchholz. However, at defendant's next appearance on August 31, 2000, private attorney Jeffrey Granich sought leave to file an appearance. The court granted Granich's request. On September 20, 2000, Granich appeared along with Buchholz, who requested leave to withdraw. The court allowed Buchholz to withdraw. Between September 2000 and April 2001, Granich appeared on defendant's behalf four times. During one of these appearances, Granich requested a sanity evaluation; no other substantive matters occurred on the record in this time.

On April 2, 2001, the State filed its notice of intent to seek the death penalty. During the same appearance, Granich indicated that he was filing a motion for appointment of counsel for defendant under the Capital Crimes Litigation Act.*fn1 The motion was continued to allow the State time to respond, and on April 19, 2001, the State declined to take a position on the motion. The following discussion then occurred:

"THE COURT: All right. Counsel, I don't know the procedure to go through other than to say that you are appointed. But that is fine with me. You will be appointed and paid through the county through a special fund.

GRANICH: I also asked in my motion that a trial partner of mine that the Court is aware of, John Theis, also be appointed with my office to work on this case.

What is actually going to happen, Judge, is I am taking this as of June 1st. John has agreed to come in on this case and would take over the litigation of this case until I return. I am going on vacation.

THE COURT: All right. Now, I don't know if capital litigation will appoint two private lawyers. I am not sure. I am not familiar enough with it. Certainly at this time I will appoint you as trial counsel. Has the attorney filed a motion?

GRANICH: We discussed this case at great length. I informed him that I was going to be filing this motion. He asked to be included in it. I did include him in the motion.

Judge, I think there was some--In the motion I filed some statutory authority. I believe that there is some comment that for a death penalty case two lawyers should be appointed.

THE COURT: Well, there certainly is language that the defendant should have two lawyers. The public defender, they would appoint two lawyers. Private counsel I am not certain. I will appoint you today and then you can raise the issue.

GRANICH: It sounds great."

On May 9, Granich appeared along with John Theis. The court indicated that it had not yet reviewed the relevant statutes but would do so before the next court date. The following dialogue ensued:

"GRANICH: Can I suggest May 22nd? That's a short date. The only reason I'm asking, Judge, I plan on leaving as of May 25th. That's why I was seeking to have Mr. Theis brought in on this case as well.

THE COURT: Are you saying you won't even do the case?

GRANICH: I anticipate returning and trying this case when necessary, Judge, but, what I had anticipated was Mr. Theis would carry on the case while I was out of town and then I would be returning to try the case.

THE COURT: You need to put something in writing for me, Counsel, when you'll be gone, because we'll have substitute counsel rather than two attorneys on this case.

GRANICH: All right.

THE COURT: *** I need it in writing what you intend to do, when you intend to leave. If you can get that to the State by the 16th, I can review it.

The statute says--Supreme Court rules talk about a certain number of attorneys. I don't know that it speaks to the county paying for two and maybe a private attorney and a Public Defender."

The case was continued to May 22, 2001. On that date, the court reviewed the history of the case on the record and then indicated that it had discussed the appointment of Theis with the parties in chambers:

"I informed Mr. Granich and the state's attorney in my chambers that I don't think that this is something that legally I can do because there is really no basis for appointing private counsel on Mr. Baez's case.

Counsel represented to me I think a month or two ago that Mr. Baez paid him less than five thousand dollars on a capital murder case. On a capital murder case I cannot imagine counsel being able to proceed on the case with *** less than 50 thousand dollars, and because of that it is clear if Mr. Baez can't pay more than five thousand dollars that he cannot afford private counsel.

I cannot give him private counsel just because he wants private counsel. There has to be a reason for appointment. There are excellent attorneys in the public defenders murder task force and one of those attorneys will be appointed to represent Mr. Baez.

If this were a case that were near trial and everybody was ready then I could see kind of stepping in and completing it, but we're at the beginning of this case and in actuality murder cases, especially death penalty cases, are not disposed of in less than two years that I've ever seen, so I cannot see any justification for the appointment of private counsel.

I would not only require the county to pay for the representation of two lawyers but possibly for an investigator, mitigation specialists, all those people that the public defender has on their staff, at least the investigator, and all of the personnel that work for them.

So I am going to withdraw the appointment--vacate my appointment I guess of Mr. Granich and reappoint the public defenders, the murder task force on Mr. Baez's case." Granich objected, and the following discussion occurred:

"GRANICH: Judge, just for the record, I do believe that there is authority for private counsel to be appointed in the motion that I filed that the court originally granted. I cited instances where courts in Illinois have appointed people using the Capital Crimes Litigation Funds Act and also the Capital Crime Litigation funds to pay for mitigation specialists, experts and private counsel.

Based on the Court's ruling today I presume I would be seeking leave to withdraw my appearance over my objection.

THE COURT: Certainly, counsel. But the fact of the matter is in those cases there was some justification for it. The only particular case that I'm really aware of when it's at the eve of trial when private counsel has been appointed. I've never seen a private attorney appointed at the beginning of a case when the family obviously cannot afford private counsel. Now he cannot afford private counsel. It's just that simple. And the county cannot afford to give people private counsel just because they want it. All the money in the capital litigation funds would be gone in six months if I appointed everybody who wanted a private lawyer to have it in their case, and the fact is that there are excellent attorneys in the murder task force and with all deference to you and Mr. Theis both of whom I respect and admire, all lawyers in the murder task force probably have two or three times the experience that you gentlemen have in death penalty cases, and so it's just no justification for it.

All right, the public defenders murder task force will be appointed and private counsel's appointment is vacated." The court also noted defendant's previous complaints about Assistant Public Defender Buchholz, and the court directed Assistant Public Defender Stu Smith, who was present in the courtroom, to ask that Buchholz not be reassigned to the case. The court then addressed defendant directly, telling him that he would be given time while the public defender assigned new counsel. The following colloquy then took place:

"DEFENDANT: May I plead guilty to this case? I'd like to change my plea.

THE COURT: Well Mr. Baez, let me tell you this. You have the absolute right to plead guilty. However, I think you need to first talk to an attorney. I think you said this to me before.

DEFENDANT: No. I been deciding this since the incident occurred.

THE COURT: I don't want you to talk about the facts of the case at all, Mr. Baez. I'm almost certain that you made a statement similar to this in court before. But let me say this to you. When you get another attorney on the case you talk to that attorney about your desires, your options. Wait until the attorney gets all the reports on this case and they have an opportunity to review those reports and to talk to you about the strength or weaknesses of the case. And if you want to plead guilty then you tell the lawyer that that's your desire. That lawyer can talk to you. They can talk to the State. They can possibly get a resolution of your case. I don't know.

They may involve me in the resolution of your case. I don't know. I can't get involved in it unless both parties agree. Do you understand what I'm saying?

DEFENDANT: Yes, ma'am.

THE COURT: So just wait until you have an opportunity to talk to the lawyer. Actually there will be two lawyers I'm sure who will be appointed on the case from murder task force. Talk to them. But give them an opportunity to get all the evidence and review it so they can have an intelligent conversation with you to let you know what your options are and what they will think is best for you. Listen to what they say, sir?

DEFENDANT: Yes, ma'am.

THE COURT: Of course it's ultimately your decision. And only your decision. All right. I'm going to give it a two week date?

DEFENDANT: No, Friday please.

THE COURT: Okay. Counsel. [Assistant Public Defender] SMITH: Judge, may I address the Court on two matters. One is in addition to all the matters that the Court pointed out here, factors the court considered, I'm also aware counsel indicated to me and may have indicated in a written motion Mr. Granich is going to be out of the country for at least six months and I believe that is going to be soon.

GRANICH: At this time, Judge, I'm not sure how long I will be gone.

THE COURT: I know Mr. Granich on the last two court dates he has been in front of me he represented he's going to be gone some period of time. I asked him to tell me in writing how long. As of this moment he hasn't I think said how long but he did say he thought months when we had the conversation.

GRANICH: That is correct.

THE COURT: That's really not the major issue. It's whether or not I can appoint private counsel when in effect counsel has not been hired. Because five thousand dollars is not hiring an attorney in a death penalty case."

The case was then continued to June 12, 2001, when Buchholz appeared with defendant. The parties indicated that all discovery was complete except for certain information relating to the factors in aggravation. Buchholz informed the court that he was still in the process of obtaining some of the files from the attorney who was "taking over Mr. Granich's practice," and the case was continued to July 11. On that date, the parties again agreed to continue the case for additional discovery and pretrial motions. Buchholz, who again appeared, requested September 25, indicating that he intended to be on vacation "most of September."

On September 25, 2001, defendant again appeared with Buchholz. Before other business was conducted, the court asked defendant what he wanted done with a letter he had sent to the court. That letter does not appear in the record. The following discussion occurred:

"THE COURT: *** I want to know if you want me to tear it up or give it to your lawyer or what?

DEFENDANT: I was, I was asking the Court if I can proceed pro se?

THE COURT: I thought we had this discussion before? DEFENDANT: No, we had a discussion about me receiving a new lawyer, and that ended in a no.

And then I tried to obtain my own lawyer, and we're all familiar with the outcome of that, and I'd like to proceed pro se.

THE COURT: You certainly have the right to proceed pro se, Mr. Baez, if you want to do so. I wouldn't suggest it. But you certainly have the right to do so.

Have you been communicating with Mr. Buchholz?" Defendant responded that he had not seen Buchholz since before the last court date in July. Buchholz explained that he had been trapped out of the country by the events of September 11, 2001, but that he and defendant had "communicated." The court then addressed defendant's request:

"THE COURT: I know you talked to him. I wanted to put it on the record.

Let me say this, Mr. Baez. I certainly think that it would be completely unwise for you to try to represent yourself. I read the, just the first paragraph of your letter that you sent to me.

Let me--just from reading the first paragraph, let me explain that what you're saying in here, you want Mr. Buchholz [sic] to have a serious conversation on your behalf.

He has to have everything, every single piece of discovery that the State has, and they just filed a supplemental answer to discovery today and what we call an answer to discovery, that has additional material. Behind these pieces of paper may be volumes of sheets of paper. He has to get all of the materials that the State has.

There's also what's called mitigation evidence, which means evidence that would be to your benefit. Possibly witnesses, things about your background. Of course, I know nothing about you at all. Your schooling, those kind of things.

First he needs that, then he has to get the information from you that you have before he has a discussion with them, with the State.

DEFENDANT: He told me that he, because I already admitted to the crime--

THE COURT: Well, I have absolutely no idea, and he may be right. If he said that, I don't--because I don't know anything about that.

But before a lawyer can negotiate for you, this is a possible death penalty case. That is a possible disposition of the case. That's final, and you know that?

DEFENDANT: Yes, ma'am.

THE COURT: Before he can negotiate a disposition of your case, he needs to have everything in his power, everything good about you, certainly, to present to them, and anything that you can present that would help him negotiate for you.

I think you ought to give Mr. Buchholz an opportunity to review all his materials, to sit down with you[.]

He's a very thorough man, the state's attorney. He will know everything about his case. Mr. Buchholz has to know everything about you before they can get together and try to negotiate.

DEFENDANT: I don't think anybody knows anything better pertaining to the case than I.

THE COURT: Well, you know, you may know more about what happened. But you don't know about the law, Mr. Baez. You don't know the negotiation process, because you have never been in this position.

DEFENDANT: Exactly.

THE COURT: All right.

So it's absolutely best for a lawyer to try to negotiate for you rather than try to negotiate yourself.

And, I mean, that is just the bottom line. You can do whatever you like. If you want to represent yourself, I'll give you all the admonishments that the law requires, and if you decide to represent yourself against my advice, I mean, that's what you will do.

But you will be at such a disadvantage, you will be at such a disadvantage if you are negotiating with the State on your own, you might tell them things Mr. Buchholz might not tell him. You might tell them things that would help them try the case against you rather than help you out.

He knows the things that are going to benefit you and he knows the things that are going to hurt you, because he knows the law and you don't.

So I would suggest that you let him proceed on your case.

He just knows so much more about it than you.

I'm saying that because I don't--I just think you'd be insane to try to represent yourself.

DEFENDANT: I feel that is the best ...


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