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The People of the State of Illinois v. Carlos Gomez

September 30, 2011


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County 01 CR 811 Honorable Jorge Luis Alonso, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McBRIDE

JUSTICE McBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Cahill and Garcia concurred in the judgment and opinion.


¶ 1 Following a jury trial, defendant Carlos Gomez was convicted of the first degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault and home invasion of Joyce Ralson. The trial court subsequently sentenced defendant to a term of natural life for first degree murder, 30 years for aggravated criminal sexual assault and 30 years for home invasion. Defendant appeals, arguing that: (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to quash arrest and suppress statements because defendant was arrested before the existence of probable cause; (2) the State failed to prove him guilty of aggravated criminal sexual assault beyond a reasonable doubt because it did not establish that Ralson was alive at the time of the sexual assault; (3) the trial court failed to comply with Supreme Court Rule 431(b) (Ill. S. Ct. R. 431(b) (eff. May 1, 2007)); and (4) the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing defendant to a term of natural life.

¶ 2 In November 2004, defendant filed a motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence flowing from an unlawful detention. The trial court conducted a hearing on defendant's motion in January and February 2005. The following evidence was presented at the hearing.

¶ 3 Maria Gomez Bahena testified that she is defendant's sister. On November 22, 2000, she was living at her parent's house, located at 3774 West 77th Place in Chicago, with her family. On November 23, 2000, which was Thanksgiving, between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., Bahena was sleeping on the couch in the living room when she was awoken by "loud banging and knocking" at the side door. She went to the door and looked through a curtain to see "quite a number of what [she] thought were police officers." They asked to see defendant. She opened the door slightly and they asked about defendant. Bahena told them he lived there and was sleeping in the basement. The officers said they needed to see him and Bahena asked them to wait and closed the door. She turned to get her parents, but her mother was already at the doorway to the stairs by the side door. As Bahena turned around, the officers entered the house and walked down the stairs into the basement. Bahena denied giving the officers permission to enter the house.

¶ 4 Bahena testified that at least five officers went down the stairs. She followed them with her mother. Bahena stated that the lights were off in the basement and it was dark so the officers used their flashlights. Bahena said there was a bunk bed in the basement. The officers approached the bunk bed and started questioning her brother, Jesus, who was in the bottom bunk. They asked him if he was Carlos and made Jesus show them his identification to prove he was not Carlos. Then, the officers grabbed defendant and pulled him down from the top bunk. Bahena stated that they handcuffed defendant. Bahena testified that defendant was wearing his pajamas, which were jogging pants and a white T-shirt. He was not wearing shoes, only socks. One of the officers then read defendant his rights. The officers then "dragged" defendant out of the house. An officer came back and took a pair of shoes for defendant.

¶ 5 While the officers were there, Bahena tried to explain what was said to her mother, who only spoke Spanish. They asked for a Spanish interpreter and Bahena stated the officers ignored them and one said to her mother that she lives in America, she should be speaking English. The officers also responded that the people who speak Spanish were not working that day. Bahena stated the officers commented that "You Mexicans don't celebrate Thanksgiving anyway." Bahena said the officers were laughing and telling jokes. The officers were also taking pictures of the basement and at one point took a picture of her mother. Bahena testified that the officers did not tell her they had a warrant to search her house or a warrant for defendant's arrest.

¶ 6 On cross-examination, when asked if there were four officers present, Bahena responded that at least five came into the house and more were outside. She stated that the officers did not ask to enter the house and she did not give them permission. She did not remember one of the officers giving her his card, but said that she asked where they were going and was told Area One. Bahena was asked why she did not tell other detectives and an assistant State's Attorney about the actions by the officers, and she responded that she was not asked. Bahena was referred to part of her written statement in which she stated that the officers were "rude to her at her home earlier and made what she believed to be racist remarks." On redirect, Bahena clarified that she was not asked in her statement about what occurred when the officers came to her house, but was asked about the events that took place the night before. In rebuttal, Bahena testified that in November 2000, she was employed by a market research company and denied asking the police officers about the educational requirements to become an officer.

¶ 7 Jesus Gomez testified that defendant is his younger brother. In November 2000, he lived at 3774 West 77th Place with his family. He slept in the basement with defendant on a set of bunk beds. He stated that between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on November 23, 2000, he was awoken by a flashlight in his face and a bunch of men surrounding him asking for defendant. He had been sleeping in the bottom bunk. He tried to get out of bed, but the officers would not let him and asked him to show his hands. They asked for his identification and he indicated that it was in his pants near the bed. The officers got the pants and "threw" the pants at him and told him to get his identification. Jesus took out his identification and showed it to the officers.

¶ 8 Jesus testified that the officers then went toward defendant on the top bunk. He saw two officers drag defendant out of bed. He stated that the officers asked defendant if he was a Latin King and they handcuffed him and read defendant his rights. Jesus said there was a lot of commotion because several of the officers were searching the laundry and storage rooms and some were on radios and cell phones. The officers then took defendant upstairs without any shoes. An officer came back and took a pair of shoes. Jesus said he never heard the officers say they had a warrant to search the house or a warrant for defendant's arrest.

¶ 9 On cross-examination, Jesus admitted that he was not near the door when the officers entered the home and did not know how they entered the home. Jesus stated that there were probably up to 10 officers in his house. He said the officers did not announce themselves and he did not see their badges. Jesus testified that the officers argued with his sister.

¶ 10 Maria Gomez testified with the aid of an interpreter. She stated that she is defendant's mother. She stated that in November 2000, she lived at 3774 West 77th Place with her family. On November 23, 2000, between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., she was sleeping in her bedroom when someone knocking on the door woke her up. She got up and went to see what was happening. She saw some officers enter through the side door and go downstairs. Her daughter was behind the officers and Maria also went downstairs. She stated that officers used flashlights downstairs and someone turned on the light. The officers were yelling, but she did not understand because she does not speak English. She said the officers "threw" defendant off the bed and handcuffed him. The officers left with defendant. When she asked what was happening, the officers "didn't want to tell [her] anything."

¶ 11 The defense rested its case-in-chief on the motion. The State then called its witnesses.

¶ 12 Detective Ernest Turner testified that on November 22, 2000, he was assigned to Area One as a homicide detective. He was working the first watch from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. Shortly after 11 p.m. on November 22, 2000, he received an assignment and went to a scene located at 3777 West 77th Street. Detective Turner stated that it was a murder scene involving an elderly woman named Joyce Ralson. He spoke with the police officers on the scene and learned of a witness named Robert Ralson who also lived at that location and was the brother of the victim. Detective Turner found out that Robert had seen the individual on the premises and that while exiting the premises, the offender knocked Robert down and fled west. He received a description of the offender as a male white, between 5 feet 9 inches and 5 feet 11 inches, dressed in a black jacket with white lettering, black pants, black hair with a short haircut.

¶ 13 Detective Turner also learned of a battery victim that another beat officer had answered near 3822 West 76th Street around the same time as the homicide and the battery victim had been taken to Holy Cross Hospital. Detective Turner estimated that 3822 West 76th Street was between 1 1/2 to 2 blocks away from the homicide location. The responding officers noted that the battery victim fit the description of the offender in the homicide case. He instructed the officers to recover the battery victim's clothing and to transport him to Area One for a further interview. He noted that the battery victim told officers that he received his injuries two blocks away, which was within the "circumference" of the homicide. Detective Turner learned the battery victim's name was Gerardo Cortina. While Cortina was still at the hospital, Robert was brought there to view Cortina, but Robert could not make a positive identification.

¶ 14 Detective Turner testified that Cortina was brought to Area One between 3:10 and 3:20 a.m. and placed in an interview room. Detective Turner spoke with Cortina. He advised Cortina of his rights and stated that Cortina became "very combative and said that he didn't want to talk." Detective Turner stated that Cortina asked for a cigarette and some time to think about what happened. Detective Turner next spoke with Cortina between 4:30 and 5 a.m. At that time, Cortina told him that he did not know anything and he had been with his friend, Carlos Gomez. Cortina gave defendant's address to the detective. Detective Turner then asked his sergeant to assign a couple detectives to go to defendant's house and "see if they could locate this Gomez and have him brought - see if he would come into the station to back up [Cortina's] story as to where [Cortina] was at the time of this incident." At that time, Detective Turner did not have any reason to believe defendant was associated with the homicide.

¶ 15 Detective Turner stated that four detectives went to defendant's house, but he was not one of them. He said that defendant was brought into Area One around 5:35 a.m. and placed in a conference room. Defendant was not handcuffed and the door was open. Detective Turner testified that this was "absolutely not" a room that he would put offenders in because it was not secure. Detective Turner first spoke with defendant around 6 a.m. when defendant asked for a cigarette and a pop. Detective Turner asked defendant if he knew Cortina and defendant responded that he did. He asked defendant if he had been with Cortina and defendant answered that they had been drinking.

¶ 16 At approximately 6:20 a.m., another detective, Detective Romic, spoke with Cortina. She then spoke to Detective Turner. She informed him that Cortina had said that he and defendant had gone out with the intention of stealing a car radio, but then defendant told Cortina that he wanted to "hit" a house, meaning enter a house and stick it up. Cortina said that they picked a house and defendant entered while Cortina waited in the front as a lookout. Detective Turner stated that prior to that statement, Cortina had not said anything to implicate defendant in a crime.

¶ 17 At that time, Detective Turner went to defendant, advised him of his rights and informed him that some allegations had been made against him. Defendant agreed to speak with him, but said that he did not know anything about the homicide and his mother and sister could back up his story that he was at home. Detective Turner then had detectives go to defendant's house to verify his alibi. Detective Turner also stated that defendant was transferred to a locked room around 6:40 a.m., after he spoke with Detective Romic.

¶ 18 Later, at approximately 9:20 a.m., Detectives McDonnell and Posluszny spoke with defendant. After they spoke with defendant, Detective Turner learned that defendant had made statements incriminating himself as being at the scene. According to Detective Turner, defendant was no longer considered a witness, but was now a suspect. Defendant was questioned throughout the day by other officers and assistant State's Attorneys. Defendant's clothing was recovered and forensic investigators were sent to defendant's house to process the location. Defendant also consented to give a buccal swab for DNA.

¶ 19 On cross-examination, Detective Turner stated that he was the lead detective on the case and had been working with Detective Kowalski. He admitted that he gave defendant his Miranda rights when he first spoke to defendant as a precautionary measure and he "must have had some feelings that maybe he was a suspect. But he wasn't treated as a suspect." Detective Turner also testified that Cortina was drunk when Detective Turner first saw him. Detective Turner admitted that in Cortina's statement to Detective Romic, Cortina did not mention Robert pulling into the driveway. He also stated that no one tried to call defendant's house to ask if defendant would be willing to come to the station. When asked if defendant was free to leave when he was in the conference room, Detective Turner responded that it never came up because defendant did not ask to leave. On redirect, Detective Turner stated he considered defendant to be under arrest around 9:20 a.m., after he made statements to Detective Posluszny placing himself at the scene.

¶ 20 Detectives John Farrell and David Kowalski testified that on November 23, 2000, they received an assignment between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. to pick up a witness named Carlos Gomez. They rode in one car and two other detectives, Detective McInerney and Detective Sesso, followed in another car. When they arrived at 3774 West 77th Place, Detectives Farrell and Kowalski went to the side door by the driveway and knocked. Bahena, defendant's sister, answered the door and asked what they wanted. Detective Farrell stated that he showed her his badge and explained he was a police officer and was looking for defendant. Bahena told them that defendant was there and sleeping in the basement. Detective Farrell asked if they could come in and she said yes. Bahena took them down to the basement and she turned on the lights.

¶ 21 Both detectives described the basement as an open area and they observed a set of bunk beds with a person in each bunk. When Bahena turned on the lights, the two males woke up. Bahena told them that defendant was "there" and defendant responded, "here." Detective Farrell stated that he did not speak with the person in the bottom bunk. He informed defendant that they were police officers and asked if he could speak with defendant. Defendant agreed to speak with him. Detective Farrell explained that someone at the police station had said he was with defendant earlier. Detective Kowalski asked defendant if he knew Cortina and defendant answered that he did. They asked defendant if he would come to the station and defendant agreed. Detective Farrell then spoke with Bahena as defendant got dressed. He told Bahena that defendant was going to 51st and Wentworth. He also spoke with her about the requirements to become a police officer. He gave Bahena a couple of his business cards. Detectives Farrell and Kowalski denied raising their voices in the basement or being confrontational with Bahena.

¶ 22 The detectives left with defendant. Both detectives stated that defendant was not handcuffed, but Detective Farrell did pat defendant down. Detective Kowalski stated that they transported defendant in an unmarked police car without a cage in it. They reached the Area One offices in about 20 minutes and took defendant to the second floor. While Detective Farrell stated that he placed defendant in an interview room, Detective Kowalski testified that Detective Farrell led defendant to a conference room. Detective Kowalski stated that the room is not used to hold offenders because it is not secure and cannot be locked from the outside. Both detectives stated that the door to the room defendant was in remained open. Detective Farrell told defendant he should call his mother, but defendant said he would call her later. He offered defendant something to eat or drink and defendant requested a soda, which the detective got for him.

¶ 23 On cross-examination, Detective Farrell testified that detectives usually worked alone on midnight shifts, but Detectives Kowalski and Sesso were new and were assigned to go with another detective. Detective Farrell received the assignment to get defendant from his watch commander. He stated that the watch commander said, "Ernie's got a witness. Go see if you can find him." At defendant's house, he and Detective Kowalski went to the side door and the other detectives went to the back door. He stated that he did not tell Bahena that she had a right to refuse the officers entry. He also did not tell defendant that he had a right to refuse to go with them. Detective Farrell did not tell defendant that he could leave at any time. They entered the police station from the side door adjacent to the parking lot.

¶ 24 Detective Kowalski stated on cross-examination that his notes indicated that Robert's description of the offender was 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 7 inches, thin, 17 to 18 years old, with short black hair wearing all black with a white insignia on a jacket, and dark pants. Detective Kowalski also testified that defendant left the conference room "periodically to use the washroom."

¶ 25 Detective John Posluszny testified that on November 23, 2000, he was working from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Area One and assisted in the homicide investigation. At approximately 9:20 a.m., he was asked to interview defendant with Detective McDonnell. Defendant was in an interview room, but Detective Posluszny did not believe it was locked at that time. He stated that Detective McDonnell gave defendant his Miranda rights. Detective Posluszny identified a written copy of the Miranda warnings that was signed by defendant and both detectives. Defendant agreed to speak with them. Defendant then gave a statement implicating himself in the crime. Following that conversation, Detective Posluszny informed the other detectives working on the case.

¶ 26 Assistant State's Attorney (ASA) Leanna Rajk testified that on November 23, 2000, she was assigned to the felony review unit and was assigned to the homicide investigation around noon. She arrived at Area One at approximately 1 p.m. After reviewing reports, ASA Rajk spoke with defendant's sister and mother multiple times while at the police station. When she spoke to them, she asked how they had been treated by the police. Both said they had been treated fine. ASA Rajk also spoke with defendant several times. She testified that defendant did not tell her he had been dragged out of bed by the detectives and handcuffed. He did not tell her that he had been mistreated in any way.

¶ 27 The State rested on the motion. After arguments by the parties, the trial court denied defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. The trial court noted that the parties agreed that probable cause did not exist at 5 a.m. when the detectives went to defendant's house. The court found that based on the totality of the circumstances, defendant's will was not overborne at 5 a.m. when he went to Area One with the detectives and was placed in a conference room. The court further concluded that defendant was placed under arrest at approximately 6:30 a.m. when he was moved to a second interview room as no reasonable person could believe that he or she was not under arrest at that point. The court held that the police had probable cause to arrest defendant because Cortina had given statements indicating defendant's involvement in the crime.

¶ 28 The following evidence was presented at defendant's March 2009 jury trial.

¶ 29 Robert Ralson (Robert) testified that on November 22, 2000, he lived with his sister Joyce Ralson at 3777 West 77th Street in Chicago. Ralson was 63 years old in November 2000. On November 22, 2000, Robert came home from work, ate dinner and left around 6:30 p.m. He returned home around 10:45 p.m. He noticed that all the lights were on in the house, which was unusual. When he went to enter the house, he found the side door unlocked. Robert went into his house and saw Ralson's legs on the floor. As he went to her, he saw that her pants and underwear were pulled down and a knife was stuck in her neck. Robert tried to comfort her. A few minutes later, he heard a noise and a man ran out of the back room toward Robert. Robert tried to stop him, but the man knocked him down and ran out of the house. Robert got up and saw the man run down the driveway and continue west down the block. Robert went back in the house and called 911.

ΒΆ 30 Robert stated that the house was in disarray when he arrived home that night. The television was unplugged, drawers were open, and a jewelry box from the bedroom was in the living room. He recognized the knife in Ralson's neck as one of the knives from a block on the kitchen counter. Robert testified that on November 25, 2000, he viewed a lineup at Area ...

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