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The People of the State of v. Ricky G. Blair

May 26, 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF
ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
RICKY G. BLAIR,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 06-CF-1268 Honorable Joseph G. McGraw,Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hudson

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

Presiding Justice Jorgensen and Justice Schostok concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Winnebago County, defendant, Ricky G. Blair, was found guilty of two counts of aggravated domestic battery (one count based on great bodily harm and one count based on permanent disfigurement) (720 ILCS 5/12-3.3(a) (West 2006)). The trial court vacated the permanent-disfigurement-based conviction on one-act, one-crime principles and sentenced defendant to seven years' imprisonment. Defendant appealed, urging the reversal of his conviction on two grounds. First, he asserted that the trial court failed to comply with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 431(b) (eff. May 1, 2007) in that it did not ask each prospective juror during voir dire if he or she understood and accepted each of four key principles governing criminal trials. Second, defendant contended that the State violated Illinois Supreme Court Rule 412 (eff. May 1, 2001) by calling a doctor to provide testimony without first disclosing, via a statement of his qualifications, the doctor's status as an expert. In an opinion filed on September 29, 2009, we rejected defendant's second contention but agreed that the trial court's failure to comply with Rule 431(b) required the reversal of defendant's conviction, and we remanded the cause for a new trial. People v. Blair, 395 Ill. App. 3d 465 (2009). On January 26, 2011, the Illinois Supreme Court issued a supervisory order directing us to vacate our September 29, 2009, judgment and reconsider our decision in light of People v. Thompson, 238 Ill. 2d 598 (2010). People v. Blair, 239 Ill. 2d 558 (2011) (table). Having done so, we now affirm the judgment of the trial court in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendant was charged by superseding indictment with one count of aggravated battery (720 ILCS 5/12-4(b)(1) (West 2006)), two counts of aggravated domestic battery based on permanent disfigurement (720 ILCS 5/12-3.3(a) (West 2006)), and one count of aggravated domestic battery based on great bodily harm (720 ILCS 5/12-3.3(a) (West 2006)). The charges stemmed from a March 2006 altercation between defendant and Joya Scott at the Brewington Oaks apartment complex. The aggravated battery count and one of the aggravated domestic battery (permanent disfigurement) counts related to a knife wound sustained by Scott in her arm. The remaining counts alleged that defendant punched Scott in the face, causing permanent disfigurement (a laceration) and great bodily harm (a broken nose). Jury selection commenced on June 11, 2007. Once the jury was seated, the following evidence was presented.

Scott and defendant began dating in the spring of 2005. Scott had cohabited with defendant in the past, but was not living with him at the time of the altercation. Nevertheless, Scott allowed defendant to spend the night of March 17, 2006, at her apartment. To that end, Scott prepared a"pallet" on her living room floor for defendant to sleep. Scott normally slept on a couch in her living room because she did not have a bed in her apartment.

Scott testified that she and defendant had been using cocaine on the night in question. After they ran out of cocaine, she and defendant got into an argument because defendant wanted more drugs and Scott would not buy them. Initially, the argument was verbal, with defendant repeatedly telling Scott to "shut up" whenever she spoke. Scott eventually went to lie down on the couch, and defendant lay down on the makeshift bed on the floor. Scott testified that she placed a "little steak knife" under her pillow because of a prior incident in December 2005 during which defendant gave her a black eye and beat her with a belt. The March 2006 fight became physical when defendant hit Scott repeatedly in the face. As defendant was striking Scott, she reached for the knife. A struggle ensued for control of the knife. The blade of the knife broke off while it was stuck in Scott's arm. As Scott explained, she "broke the knife off in [her] wrist." At some point, defendant also began choking Scott. According to Scott, defendant then hit her in the nose and she lost consciousness.

The next thing Scott remembered was waking up in the bathroom, where she saw defendant cleaning up. Scott testified that her clothes had been changed. Scott asked defendant to call an ambulance, but whenever she spoke, defendant started choking her. At some point, defendant left the bathroom, and Scott ran to the building security office. She told the security guards that her boyfriend tried to kill her. Subsequently, Scott was transported to a hospital and treated, receiving six stitches in her right arm and four stitches on her nose. Scott testified that around Father's Day 2006 she saw defendant in Chicago and asked him to turn himself in.

During her testimony, Scott identified clothing worn by her and defendant during the March 2006 altercation. Scott acknowledged, however, that she did not turn those articles over to the policeuntil shortly before the trial and that she did not inform the police that defendant had changed her clothes. With respect to the December 2005 incident, Scott testified that in response to defendant's conduct she grabbed a knife and stabbed defendant in the arm. Scott also admitted that she was on probation and that, at the time of her testimony, a petition to revoke her probation was pending. Nevertheless, Scott denied that her testimony was being provided in exchange for a deal with the State.

Cecilia Lindley worked security at Brewington Oaks in March 2006. Lindley testified that around 2:20 a.m. on the night in question, she and Christopher Goldberg, another guard, were in the building security office when a tenant began pounding on the door. Lindley opened the door and saw Scott. Lindley testified that Scott was "scared and crying" and had a "swollen and busted eye," a bloody nose, and a cut on her right arm. After Scott entered the security office, she stated that her boyfriend had held her hostage for about an hour. As Goldberg tended to her injuries, Scott began "blacking in and out." Lindley called 911.

Officer Bill Donato of the Rockford police department testified that he was dispatched to the Brewington Oaks apartment complex. Upon entering the building security office, Donato observed a black female, later identified as Scott, with a "gash" on the bridge of her nose. A security guard was holding a towel over Scott's right forearm. Donato testified that Scott appeared to be in shock. Donato had a brief conversation with Scott, during which she stated that her boyfriend, whom she identified as defendant, had stabbed her and punched her in the face. Scott also told Donato that she believed that defendant was still in her apartment. After Scott was transported to SwedishAmerican Hospital, Donato and several other officers went to her apartment. Donato inspected the apartment and saw blood and a knife, but defendant was not present. After members of the Rockford policedepartment identification unit arrived, Donato went to the hospital to speak with Scott. Scott provided Donato and Officer Spencer Burke a couple of addresses within her apartment complex where she thought defendant might be. The officers returned to the apartment complex, but were unable to locate defendant at any of those addresses. Thereafter, Donato and Burke returned to the hospital and conducted a full interview with Scott, during which Scott gave the officers a written statement.

On cross-examination, Donato testified that Scott was coherent and cooperative during the interview. Donato was unable to recall whether Scott indicated anything about defendant choking her while she was in the bathroom, but he admitted that there is nothing in his report to that effect. Donato also stated that nowhere in his report is there any indication that Scott told him that defendant changed her clothes during the March 2006 incident. Donato testified that, as part of his interview with Scott, he asked about her relationship with defendant. Scott told Donato that she had been dating defendant for about eight months. Scott mentioned a prior altercation during which defendant had punched her, causing a black eye. Scott also acknowledged stabbing defendant on a previous occasion. Donato could not recall Scott telling him that defendant had hit her with a belt.

Detective James Bowman testified that he processes and documents crime scenes and recovers physical evidence as part of the Rockford police department's identification unit. Bowman testified that he and Detective Hackbarth were dispatched to Scott's apartment in response to a report of an aggravated battery with a knife. After being briefed on what occurred, Bowman began taking digital photographs and documenting the evidence. As part of this process, Bowman recovered a knife that was broken in two pieces. Bowman then proceeded to SwedishAmerican Hospital to photograph Scott's injuries. The photographs showed a laceration across the bridge of Scott's noseand a "slashing wound" on her right forearm. On cross-examination, Bowman testified that no attempt was made to recover fingerprints from the knife found in Scott's apartment.

Chandra Norder-Brandli, a nurse at SwedishAmerican Hospital, testified that at approximately 2:40 a.m. on March 18, 2006, she treated Scott in the hospital's emergency room. Norder-Brandli described Scott's initial demeanor as "scared and crying." Scott's injuries included a laceration on her nose, a bruised and swollen left eye, bruising under her right eye, a laceration on her right forearm, and a swollen left wrist. Scott told Norder-Brandli that the laceration on her right forearm was from a knife. After a doctor evaluated Scott, Norder-Brandli sutured the lacerations on Scott's nose and her right forearm. On cross-examination, Norder-Brandli stated that Scott was coherent during her treatment. Norder-Brandli also stated that she did not observe Scott lose consciousness while in the emergency room. However, Norder-Brandli testified that Scott did tell her that she "thought that she may have lost consciousness" during the events of that evening.

Dr. Edward Steffen, a board-certified radiologist at SwedishAmerican Hospital, testified about his qualifications and experience. Thereafter, Dr. Steffen testified that, although he did not physically examine Scott, he did read all of her X rays and CAT scans. Over defense counsel's objection, Dr. Steffen testified that a CAT scan of Scott's face showed a broken nose. Dr. Steffen further testified that, based on his training, education, and experience, such an injury is caused by blunt force trauma, i.e., the face or the eye socket striking some hard object or some hard object striking the face or the eye socket.

Detective Jeff Houde of the Rockford police department testified that he met with Scott at her apartment complex on May 12, 2007, to recover some items that were related to the March 2006 altercation. At that time, Scott turned over a plastic garbage bag containing some clothing and linenitems. Notably, the bag contained two pairs of pajama pants, a T-shirt, a bath towel, a pair of sweatpants, a sweatshirt, and a pillow case.

After the State rested, defendant's motion for a directed verdict was presented and denied. Defendant then testified on his own behalf. Defendant recounted that on March 17 and 18, 2006, he and Scott were using cocaine that Scott had purchased from someone in her apartment complex. Defendant testified that he had not planned on spending the night at Scott's apartment, but she asked him to do so, and he agreed. Around midnight, defendant and Scott began arguing. According to defendant, Scott wanted to purchase more drugs. Defendant responded that doing so would be impossible because they did not have any money.

Defendant testified that, after the initial exchange, things calmed down for 10 or 15 minutes before the argument continued. Defendant testified that Scott again insisted on obtaining more drugs. Defendant again told Scott that he had no money, but Scott stated that she would ask the dealer to provide her the drugs on "credit." Defendant told Scott to "call it a night, lay it down." Scott responded that defendant could not tell her what to do. She then entered the kitchen and began pacing back and forth before opening a drawer and pulling out a knife. Defendant then got into the makeshift bed on the floor and began watching television. Scott moved to the couch as she held the knife in her hand. At that point, things again calmed down.

Defendant stated that as he was watching television he began to fall asleep. The next thing he remembered was Scott saying in a raised voice, "You got to get out of here." Defendant testified that Scott looked as if she had "snapped." Defendant again advised Scott to "call it a night," and she calmed down. However, a few minutes later, Scott stated, "No, it's if you got to go [sic]." Defendant stated that he glanced at Scott and "she was on the verge of standing up and reaching upunder the pillow." Defendant thought that Scott had placed the knife under the pillow on the couch, because it was no longer in her hand. Defendant stated that he then "jumped up in defense" and approached Scott. Defendant explained that, when he did so, Scott had her back turned and she was in a crouching position. Defendant grabbed Scott's arms from behind, and the two fell forward onto the couch.

Defendant testified that, by the time he reacted, Scott had control of the knife and it "must have evidently stabbed her in the arm," although he did not actually see the knife puncture Scott. Scott told defendant to get off her because she was bleeding. Defendant testified, however, that he did not see any blood. He then hit Scott in the nose "in defense" because Scott still had the knife and he was afraid that she would stab him "again." Defendant stated that after he hit Scott she "wasn't so resistent [sic] anymore." Defendant then "lifted off" of Scott and noticed blood on the couch. Defendant stated that he then "raised her up," but Scott still had the knife. Defendant instructed Scott to drop the knife, but she refused. At that point, defendant "forc[ed] her to break the knife into the couch." The blade of the knife ended up on the pillow on the couch and Scott subsequently dropped the handle of the knife.

Defendant testified that, after he realized that Scott had been cut with the knife, he lifted her off the couch and walked her to the bathroom to help her stop the bleeding. In the bathroom, defendant sat Scott on the side of the tub. He then ran cold water over a washcloth and applied it to her wrist to help stop the bleeding. Defendant testified that it took only about a minute to control the bleeding. According to defendant, Scott did not pass out in the bathroom.

Defendant stated that there was no telephone in Scott's apartment, so he planned to escort her to the security office to call an ambulance. However, before he could do so, Scott jumped up andran out of the apartment. At the time, defendant was in the bedroom getting Scott some clothes. Defendant did not realize that Scott had left until he saw that the chain on the door was off. Defendant looked into the hallway, but could not determine where Scott had gone. Accordingly, he finished putting on his clothes and went to a friend's house. Defendant stated that he left the building because he "panicked" and "was afraid of what might happen." Defendant explained that he had had "some past dealings" with the police, including two Class 4 drug possession convictions, one in May 2006 and one in December 2001.

Defendant testified that during the March 2006 incident he was thinking of what happened in December 2005. He explained that, on Christmas Eve 2005, Scott left their house and told him that she would return shortly. However, Scott did not return until the following morning. Defendant verbally confronted Scott, but Scott refused to explain her whereabouts. Defendant stated that the confrontation became physical when Scott attempted to leave again and he grabbed her arm. A struggle ensued, and the two fell to the ground. Scott bit defendant, and he swung at her in a "reflexive" manner to get his hand out of her mouth. Defendant released Scott, and she ran to the kitchen, opened a drawer, and grabbed a knife. Scott pointed the knife at defendant and stated that she was "gonna get" him. Defendant backed up and told Scott to put the knife down. However, she eventually stabbed him in the left arm just below the elbow. Defendant stated that his punch resulted in a black eye to Scott. Defendant testified that the police never came in response to the December 2005 altercation.

Defendant testified that he saw Scott three times after the March 2006 incident. The first such occasion was around Father's Day 2006 in Chicago. According to defendant, Scott called him and indicated that she was in Chicago visiting her parents. Although defendant initially resistedScott's request to meet, he ended up spending an entire day with her. Defendant testified that he met Scott a second time in August 2006 at defendant's parents' house in Chicago. The third meeting also occurred in August 2006, on defendant's birthday. At that time, Scott invited defendant over to her parents' house and they spent half a day together. Defendant denied that during any of these encounters Scott asked him to turn himself in or that there were any confrontations or problems.

On cross-examination, defendant testified that, when he grabbed Scott in March 2006, her back was to him. Defendant testified that his body weight was leaning on Scott, and this caused her to fall forward onto the couch. At some point in time, the knife punctured Scott's arm. According to defendant, however, the knife did not break while it was in Scott's arm. Defendant denied punching Scott in her right eye with his left fist. He stated that he threw only one punch and that it happened to land on the left side of Scott's face and break her nose. Defendant also acknowledged that he grabbed Scott's left wrist with such force that it became swollen. Defendant stated that at no point during the night was he bleeding and that any blood in the apartment belonged to Scott. Defendant admitted that, after he left Scott's apartment, he never went to the security office in Scott's building and never contacted the authorities.

After closing arguments, the trial court instructed the jury in pertinent part:

"The defendant is presumed to be innocent of the charges against him. This presumption remains with him throughout every stage of the trial and during your deliberations on the verdict and is not overcome unless from all the evidence in this case you are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty.

The State has the burden of proving the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, and this burden remains on the State throughout the case. The ...


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