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The People of the State of Illinois v. Nathson Fields

September 30, 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
NATHSON FIELDS, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 85 C 7651 Honorable Paul P. Biebel, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cahill

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

Presiding Justice Robert E. Gordon and Justice Garcia concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 The State appeals from an order of the circuit court granting defendant Nathson Fields a certificate of innocence. We reverse and remand with instructions.

¶ 2 In June 1985, defendant was charged along with co-defendants Earl Hawkins and George Carter with the April 1984 murders of Jerome "Fuddy" Smith and Talman Hickman. Defendant and Hawkins were tried together. After a bench trial before Judge Thomas Maloney, defendant and Hawkins were found guilty of murder and later sentenced to death. Our supreme court affirmed those convictions on direct appeal. See People v. Fields, 135 Ill. 2d 18, 552 N.E.2d 791 (1990).

¶ 3 Defendant filed an amended post-conviction petition for a new trial on September 8, 1992, alleging he was denied a fair trial because Judge Maloney accepted a $10,000 bribe to acquit Hawkins and defendant of the murders but returned the money and convicted the pair once he perceived that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was watching him. Defendant's claim was based on a June 26, 1991, federal grand jury indictment of Maloney.

¶ 4 On April 16, 1993, Maloney was found guilty of violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (18 U.S.C § 1961 et seq. (1994)), conspiracy to commit extortion and obstruction of justice in connection with a scheme to fix cases in his courtroom, including this one. See United States v. Maloney, 71 F.3d 645 (7th Cir. 1995) (en banc). The prosecution proved that during the course of defendant's trial, Maloney accepted a bribe, only to return the money and convict defendant and Hawkins when he perceived that the FBI was investigating him.

¶ 5 On September 18, 1996, the trial court granted defendant's petition, vacated his conviction and sentence and ordered a new trial. Our supreme court affirmed that order on direct appeal. See People v. Hawkins, 181 Ill. 2d 41, 690 N.E.2d 999 (1998).

¶ 6 On remand, the parties filed numerous motions before the new trial. The court denied the State's motion in limine to admit evidence relating to defendant's knowledge of the bribe to Judge Maloney. The State brought an interlocutory appeal from the court's decision. We found the trial court did not err in denying the bribery evidence because there was no testimony linking defendant to the bribery activity. See People v. Hawkins, 326 Ill. App. 3d 992, 762 N.E.2d 46 (2001).

¶ 7 After our ruling, the State entered into a plea agreement with Hawkins. During the agreement negotiations, Hawkins said that he, defendant and both of their attorneys discussed the details of how to bribe Judge Maloney. Based on this evidence, the State renewed its motion to admit bribery evidence against defendant. The court denied the motion and the State brought another interlocutory appeal. We affirmed, finding the State did not exercise due diligence in obtaining the evidence. See People v. Fields, 357 Ill. App. 3d 780, 829 N.E.2d 917 (2005).

¶ 8 After a 2009 bench trial before Judge Vincent M. Gaughan, defendant was found not guilty of the murders. In announcing its decision, the court noted that there was no unimpeached witness identifying defendant as one of the gunmen. Under these circumstances, the court found the State failed to prove defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

¶ 9 Defendant then filed a petition for a certificate of innocence under section 2-702 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-702 (West 2008)), seeking compensation for the 18 years he spent in prison. In support of the petition, defendant attached his own affidavit, averring that he is innocent of the murders. Defendant also attached to the petition the stipulated-to description of the gunmen from retrial given by Sandra Langston to police on the day of the shooting. The description did not match defendant's appearance. The State filed a motion for leave to intervene and object to the issuance of the certificate. The State claimed that defendant was unable to show by a preponderance of evidence that he is innocent of the murders as required by section 2-702 of the Code. Defendant responded, arguing that he had maintained his innocence since the inception of the case.

ΒΆ 10 At the hearing on the petition, the court recounted the history of the case and heard arguments from the parties. The State argued that defendant's affidavit was insufficient to show by a preponderance of evidence that he is innocent of the murders in light of the testimony presented at retrial indicating he was one of the shooters. Defendant argued that Langston's stipulated-to testimony at retrial was sufficient to exonerate him. The court continued the matter to review the transcripts ...


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