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The People of the State of Illinois v. David Alexander

March 29, 2011


Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois No. 07--CF--697 Honorable Stuart P. Borden, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Carter

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

Justice Schmidt concurred in the judgment and opinion.

Justice McDade specially concurred, with opinion.


Following a jury trial, the defendant, David Alexander, was convicted of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9--1(a)(2) (West 2006)) for the stabbing death of Sylvester "Mike" Polnitz. The defendant claimed the stabbing was self-defense. Alternatively, the defendant presented a second-degree-murder theory based upon an unreasonable belief in the justified use of force. The jury rejected both theories and found the defendant guilty of first degree murder. On appeal, the defendant claims: (1) the trial court erred by failing to sua sponte give Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Criminal, No. 24-25.09X (4th ed. 2000) (hereinafter, IPI Criminal 4th) ; (2) trial counsel was ineffective by failing to request IPI Criminal 4th No. 24-25.09X; and (3) he was denied a fair trial because the trial court did not strictly comply with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 431(b) (eff. May 1, 2007). We affirmed the judgment of the trial court on May 13, 2009. People v. Alexander, 391 Ill. Ap. 3d 419 (2009). On September 30, 2009, the Illinois Supreme Court entered a supervisory order directing this court to vacate its judgment in this matter and reconsider its judgment in light of People v. Glasper, 234 Ill. 2d 173 (2009), to determine if a different result was warranted. People v. Alexander, 233 Ill. 2d 565 (2009). After reconsidering the matter, we again affirmed. People v. Alexander, 396 Ill. App. 3d 563 (2009). On January 26, 2011, the Illinois Supreme Court entered a supervisory order directing this court to vacate its judgment in this matter and reconsider its judgment in light of People v. Thompson, 238 Ill. 2d 598 (2010), to determine if a different result is warranted. People v. Alexander, No. 109683 (Jan. 26, 2011). We have reconsidered the matter based upon on Thompson and we again affirm the trial court's judgment.


The defendant's trial began on October 1, 2007, with the selection of the jury. At the beginning of the jury voir dire, the trial court stated:

"I shall now at this time touch upon broad fundamental principles that are applicable to criminal cases. Do not consider these to be instructions of law. Those will be given to you later at the conclusion of the case. Now, the indictment that I just read to you or the charge against the defendant is not any evidence or presumption of guilt against the defendant. It's merely a formal charge necessary to place him on trial. The defendant is presumed to be innocent of the charge in the indictment. This presumption remains with him throughout the trial until you've been satisfied by the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant, and the burden of proving the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt is on the State. The law does not require the defendant to prove his innocence. The defendant is not required to present any evidence or testify, and if he chooses not to testify in this case, it cannot be held against him."

At that time, the court did not ask the potential jurors, individually or in a group, whether they understood and accepted those principles. The defendant did not object or request that the court question the potential jurors on those principles.

The court then proceeded to question each potential juror individually. During this questioning, the court asked the first juror the following questions:

"Do you have any bias against a person merely because he has been charged with a criminal offense? *** Will you follow the court's instructions regarding the law regardless of your own personal opinion? *** Will you decide the case without sympathy and prejudice? *** Will you give both the State and the defendant a fair trial? *** Can you wait until the entire case is over and you are actually back in the jury room deliberating before you begin to form your final opinion?"

The court asked substantially the same questions of each subsequent potential juror.

After the jury had been empaneled, the State presented its evidence. Trina Owens testified that she was present at the apartment of the defendant and his girlfriend Kim on the evening of June 22, 2007. When Owens arrived at the apartment, the defendant was not home. Owens and Kim drank an alcoholic beverage and talked for a few hours. Owens testified that she became intoxicated. When the defendant arrived home, he and Kim had a conversation. After that conversation, then defendant asked Owens whether she knew anything about Polnitz shoving and attempting to rape Kim. Owens told him, "No." Owens testified that the defendant seemed calm after this conversation.

Approximately 20 to 30 minutes later, the defendant left the apartment. Owens testified that before the defendant left the apartment, he was in the kitchen and was upset. After the defendant left, Owens looked out the front door to see what the defendant was doing. Owens saw the defendant standing near the front door of Polnitz's apartment. Owens went back inside the apartment to speak to Kim. Owens then went back outside and saw the defendant standing there looking upset. She then went back inside to speak to Kim again, trying to convince her to go and speak to the defendant. Owens then went back out the front door of the apartment onto the front porch. Owens testified that she then saw Polnitz and the defendant toward the back of the building. Owens testified that she felt panicky and went back into the apartment. She then went back outside and saw Polnitz and the defendant running toward an alley. Owens went back in the apartment to convince Kim to speak to the defendant, but Kim did not go outside. Owens went back outside and walked toward the alley. Owens testified that when she reached the alley, she saw Polnitz bleeding and holding his side, and the defendant holding a knife. Owens told the defendant to stop and put down the knife. She then ran to a neighbor's house and asked someone to call 911. Owens then returned to the alley and saw the defendant, Polnitz, and a woman. Polnitz was on the ground and bleeding. Owens testified that she saw a lot of blood. Owens told them that she had called for help, and the defendant left soon thereafter.

Officer Brad Venzon testified that he was dispatched to an alley shortly after midnight on June 23, 2007. Venzon was the first responder to the scene. Venzon observed a woman kneeling over a man who was lying on his back in the alley. The man's left leg was covered in blood and there wasa large amount of blood on the ground under his leg. Venzon approached the people in the alley. The man was barely conscious, and he was gasping for air. The woman told the officer that the man's name was Sylvester Polnitz and that he had been stabbed in the leg. The woman also told Venzon the name of the person who had stabbed Polnitz. Venzon applied pressure to Polnitz's leg in an attempt to stem the bleeding. A few minutes later, emergency medical personnel arrived. After securing the alley, Venzon walked back toward the apartment building. Venzon did not find any weapons or see any blood on the ground on the way.

Captain Tom Carr of the Peoria fire department testified that he responded to a report of a stabbing in an alley shortly after midnight on June 23, 2007. Carr arrived at the alley approximately two to three minutes after the initial report. Upon arrival, Carr observed Polnitz lying on the ground and bleeding heavily from a wound to his lower leg. Carr testified that Polnitz was also in respiratory distress when he arrived at the scene. Paramedics arrived approximately two to three minutes after Carr. Polnitz went into full arrest while still in the alley. The emergency medical personnel, including Carr, transported Polnitz to Saint Francis hospital while attempting cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Officer Roberto Vasquez of the Peoria police department testified that he was assigned to follow the ambulance and stay with Polnitz at the hospital on June 23, 2007. Vasquez was present when Polnitz was pronounced dead at approximately 12:53 a.m.

Emily Foster testified that she lived in an apartment with her children, her aunt and Polnitz, who was her aunt's boyfriend. There were three apartments in the building--two apartments on the ground floor, and one upstairs. Emily lived in one of the ground-floor apartments, and the defendant lived in the other.

On Friday night, June 22, 2007, Emily and Polnitz walked from their apartment to a gasstation to buy cigarettes. Emily testified that it was raining that night. When they returned home, they entered the back porch to go into their apartment. As they entered the porch, Emily heard someone banging on the front door. Emily stayed on the back porch while Polnitz walked around the building toward the front door. Emily then heard Polnitz yelling. Emily stepped off the back porch and saw Polnitz running toward the alley with the defendant following him. Emily testified that she did not see any blood on Polnitz at that time, nor was Polnitz limping. Emily ran after them into the alley. When Emily arrived at the alley, she saw Polnitz on his hands and knees crawling away from the defendant. Emily testified that she then saw the defendant stab Polnitz in his lower left leg. Emily yelled at the defendant, who turned and began yelling back at her. Polnitz told the ...

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