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The People of the State of Illinois v. Ronald Leach

May 31, 2011


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 06 CR 27392 Honorable Domenica A. Stephenson, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Connors

JUSTICE CONNORS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Cunningham and Justice Karnezis concurred in the judgment and opinion.


Following a jury trial, defendant Ronald Leach appeals his conviction in the circuit court of Cook County for aggravated discharge of a firearm. On appeal, defendant contends that the trial court erred by providing the jury with a new instruction in response to a jury question regarding the law that should be applied to the case. Defendant also challenges the imposition of a $200 DNA analysis fee as part of his sentence. We affirm defendant's conviction, but we vacate the DNA analysis fee.


This appeal arises out of the events surrounding the shooting death of Nicole White on November 13, 2006. On that evening, Corey Clay was selling cocaine on behalf of defendant when a customer approached Clay in a vehicle and attempted to purchase several bags of cocaine. Clay did not have enough bags left to fill the order, so he asked Nicole White, who was sitting on a porch nearby, to loan him several bags of cocaine. Nicole agreed, but when Clay gave the customer the drugs, the customer drove off without paying.

While Clay and Nicole were arguing about who would take the loss on the drugs, defendant approached and intervened. Defendant told Nicole that she would have to take the loss because she was not supposed to be selling anything in that area. Nicole became angry and began arguing with defendant, and the altercation quickly became physical. Although defendant was 5 feet 7 inches and weighed 173 pounds, Nicole was 5 feet 6 inches and weighed about 251 pounds. Both defendant and Nicole struck each other and, when onlookers attempted to break up the fight, Nicole sprayed mace in defendant's face and eyes.

Defendant fled to his cousin's nearby apartment and Nicole went to a separate nearby apartment. At the apartment, Nicole retrieved a small knife from the kitchen. She also called her brother Anthony White and explained what had happened. At some point, Nicole left the apartment and met up with several other individuals and her brother Anthony in the vicinity of the altercation with defendant.

About half an hour or so after the initial altercation, defendant and his cousin approached Nicole and the individuals who were with her. The testimony at trial was somewhat unclear about the exact number of people in the area at this time, but there appear to have been at least four other people in the immediate vicinity in addition to Nicole and defendant. When defendant approached, Nicole began arguing with him again and physically attacked him. There were some discrepancies in the testimony of various witnesses about whether she struck defendant with her fists or not, or whether Nicole was holding the knife at this point. The knife was later recovered at the scene, where it was lying found on the ground next to the can of mace.

Nicole again produced her can of mace and sprayed it in defendant's face and eyes, and defendant backed up and put his hands over his face in order to protect himself from the spray. Defendant then removed a handgun from his jacket, pointed it at Nicole, and pulled the trigger twice. Nicole was struck in the chest by both bullets and later died of her wounds. At this point, the testimony is unclear as to the precise sequence of events, but it is clear that defendant fired his gun at least one more time with the bullet traveling toward the group of onlookers, which included Nicole's brother Anthony White. Defendant fled the scene but was apprehended a short time later.

Defendant was subsequently charged by indictment with first-degree murder in the death of Nicole White, and with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm for her brother Anthony White. Defendant asserted self-defense, and the case was tried before a jury. During the jury instructions conference, the parties agreed that the jury should receive a slightly modified version of the Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction for aggravated discharge of a firearm, which read as follows:

"To sustain the charge of aggravated discharge of a firearm, the State must prove the following propositions:

First: That the defendant knowingly discharged a firearm; and Second: That the defendant discharged the firearm in the direction of Anthony White."

This instruction was based on Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Criminal, No. 18.12 (4th ed. Supp. 2008) (hereinafter IPI Criminal 4th No. 18.12 (Supp. 2008)), with the only difference being that the standard instruction reads "another person" rather than "Anthony White."

During deliberations the jury sent out a question to the court that read, "Does the Aggravated Discharge charge apply only to shooting in the direction of Anthony White?" After discussing the question with the parties, the trial court determined that the name of the victim is not a required part of the instruction on this charge. Over defendant's objection, the trial court withdrew the original instruction from the jury and replaced it with one that read "another person." The jury renewed its deliberations and returned a verdict a short time later. The jury found defendant guilty of second-degree murder ...

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