Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 07 CR 19916 The Honorable John P. Kirby, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Harris
JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Cunningham and Connors concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Defendant, John Haley, was charged with first degree murder. A jury found Haley not guilty of first degree murder, but guilty of the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter. The circuit court sentenced defendant to 5 years' incarceration for involuntary manslaughter, with an additional 5-year extended sentence, for a total of 10 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. We are called upon to determine whether the circuit court properly admitted testimony, as other crimes evidence, of an incident involving defendant one month prior to the instant offense, and whether Haley's sentence was excessive.
¶ 2 We hold that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the jury to hear evidence of defendant's other crimes because it was admitted for purposes other than to show defendant's propensity to commit criminal acts. The circuit court did not abuse its discretion in weighing this evidence's probative value to be greater than its prejudicial effect. We also hold that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing when focusing on the degree of force defendant used in committing the crime when considering the aggravating factor that defendant's conduct threatened or caused serious harm. The circuit court did not abuse its discretion in balancing the various factors in aggravation and mitigation, including defendant's potential for rehabilitation.
¶ 4 The circuit court sentenced defendant on December 11, 2009. Defendant timely filed his notice of appeal on December 15, 2009. This court granted an amended notice of appeal on September 30, 2010, correcting the indictment number and description of the offense. Accordingly, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to article VI, section 6, of the Illinois Constitution and Illinois Supreme Court Rules 603 and 606, governing appeals from a final judgment of conviction in a criminal case entered below. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 6; Ill. S. Ct. R. 603 (eff. Oct. 1, 2010); R. 606 (eff. Mar. 20, 2009).
¶ 6 Defendant was charged with first degree murder for the death of Du Doan, who drowned after being pushed into Lake Michigan at Montrose Harbor in Chicago, Illinois, during the early morning hours of September 1, 2007.
¶ 8 Before trial, the State filed a motion seeking to introduce proof of other crimes committed by defendant. Specifically, the State sought to introduce the testimony of Ronald Squires, whom defendant pushed into Lake Michigan approximately one month prior to pushing Doan into Lake Michigan in this case. The State offered the evidence of defendant's past crime to show defendant's modus operandi. The State also argued that the evidence showed that defendant acted intentionally, that defendant had a callous attitude toward the victim, and that the crimes were of a common design. Additionally, the State argued that it would put defendant's arrest and crime into context. The State contended that "its admission will be essential in rebutting the defendant's almost certain claim *** that he did not intend to kill Du Doan by pushing him in the lake."
¶ 9 During argument before the court, the State contended the incidents had similar circumstances, victims, and location. The State argued the two offenses were so similar that they proved defendant's modus operandi. Specifically, both victims were close in age, defendant pushed both victims into the lake under the cover of darkness while the victims were fishing, defendant told accompanying friends what he had done immediately after the incidents, both victims were wearing bulky clothing that would inhibit swimming, and the incidents occurred close geographically. The State also argued that the prior crime showed lack of accident, that defendant's actions were not inadvertent, involuntary, or performed without his knowledge. The State argued the prior incident was important because, although defendant admitted to knowingly and intentionally pushing both victims into Lake Michigan, at first he claimed it was an accident. The State also argued that the other crimes evidence put defendant's arrest into context, as Ronald Squires did not come forward until he found out about Doan's death in this case. The State also argued the evidence negated defendant's anticipated argument that he did not foresee the consequences of his actions. The court, noting that it counted eight possible reasons raised by the State to allow evidence of defendant's other crime into evidence, asked the State if it was seeking to have each of those eight reasons brought in under each individual theory. The court listed the reasons as "[m]odus operandi, intent, identity, motive, absence of mistake, common design, and context of defendant's arrest." The State responded, acknowledging that many of the articulated reasons overlapped, but asked that the evidence of other crimes be admitted under all of the reasons it offered.
¶ 10 Defendant argued that the prior crime of pushing Squires in the lake did not make it any more or less probable or relevant that he intended to kill the victim in this case. Defendant also stressed that he already admitted committing the prior crime, so the evidence of his prior crime only shows a propensity to commit crime.
¶ 11 The court, in issuing its ruling, stated it considered the question before it as "twofold." First, whether the proof of defendant's other crime was admissible in the present case, and second, whether it was relevant, where defendant gave a video statement indicating he intentionally pushed the victim into Lake Michigan as a prank. The court granted the State's request, finding the proof of defendant's other crime could be used for any purpose other than his propensity to commit crime, and that it would be relevant to show "modus operandi, intent, identity, motive, and absence of mistake." The court found that the prejudicial effect of the other crimes evidence did not substantially outweigh its probative value.
¶ 12 State's Case-In-Chief
¶ 13 The testimony at trial established that defendant was with his friends, Thomas Harrington, Steven Harrington, Bryant Dwayne Thomas, a/k/a Dwayne, and Katie Hoffman before, during, and after the incident. They all testified on behalf of the State. Thomas Harrington testified that on the date of the incident, the group went to two house parties in Chicago where they drank alcohol before going to the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago, to continue drinking. At this point it was early Saturday morning and the group took Katie's car and went to Montrose Harbor to eat. At Montrose Harbor, the group headed to the nearest benches. Defendant asked the group "would it be funny if we pushed somebody in the water?" Thomas Harrington testified that he told defendant, "No." The group then walked closer to the pier where defendant again asked the group, "would it be funny if we pushed somebody in the water?" Thomas Harrington recalled Dwayne spoke to defendant, and then defendant pulled away from the group, telling them he was going to watch the sun rise. The group, excluding defendant, decided to go back to the car. As they were walking to the car, Thomas Harrington heard a splash. When they got to the car, defendant ran up behind them laughing and said to the group, "we gotta get outta here." In the car, defendant was laughing as the group sped away and when asked what happened, defendant responded, "the guy looked hot and needed a swim." The group then went to a unnamed cafe to eat. They spent the night in the car.
¶ 14 Thomas Harrington testified that two days later he spoke with defendant over the phone. Defendant informed him that someone had died at Montrose Harbor. He, along with Steven and Katie, met up with defendant at his girlfriend's house. He testified that defendant had a tattoo of a bird on each side of his neck and various tattoos covered his forearms.
¶ 15 Dwayne testified that he met up with defendant early in the evening the night before the incident. He remembered that later in the evening, after going to a bar and a party at the Flat Iron building located at North Damen and Milwaukee in Chicago, they were joined by Thomas Harrington, Steven, and Katie. In the early morning hours that Saturday, the group decided to go watch the sun rise. After parking, the group started to walk toward benches near the harbor. Dwayne grabbed defendant and told him, "stop being stupid or something to that effect." He testified that he then went back to the car because he thought going to the harbor was "stupid" and he was feeling sick. Katie, Thomas Harrington, and Steven all started walking back to the car. Dwayne recalled that on his way back to the car, he heard someone yell to call the police. Hearing this, he fled because he did not want to get into trouble. Katie, Thomas Harrington, and Steven ran with him. Defendant came up from behind the group. Everyone got into the car. Dwayne sat in the front seat, Katie drove, and the other three members of the group, including defendant, sat in the back. Dwayne testified that the people in the back were laughing and that defendant stated "he looked hot" as he entered the car.
¶ 16 The Monday after the incident, Dwayne learned that someone had drowned at Montrose Harbor. Later in the day, he spoke with defendant. He then met with defendant at defendant's house. They decided to call a television news journalist named Jay Levine to give an interview. After the interview, they had Levine follow them to the police station.
¶ 17 Katie testified she went to a party on the night before the incident with defendant, Thomas Harrington, Steven, and Dwayne. After, they went to a hot dog place to get food and then to Montrose Harbor. It was defendant's idea to go to the harbor to watch the sun rise. She testified seeing Dwayne grab defendant's arm, and the group walked back to her car. The prosecutor then confronted her with her grand jury testimony in which she stated that defendant started to walk toward a man fishing on the end of the harbor. Katie admitted giving that answer, but claimed she lied to the grand jury. She testified that as she was talking to Thomas Harrington and Steven while walking to her car, she heard a splash. She testified that defendant came running behind her from the area of the splash. The prosecutor read her grand jury testimony, in which she stated that while the group was in the car, defendant said he pushed a man in the water. After being asked why he did that, defendant responded that the man looked like he wanted to go for a swim. She testified that she lied to the grand jury regarding those comments.
¶ 18 Katie further testified that on the Monday after the incident, defendant called her saying a man had drowned at Montrose Harbor. After taking this call, she went to defendant's house. After speaking with the group, she gave Jay Levine an interview. After the interview she went to the police station.
¶ 19 Steven Harrington testified that the night before the incident, he was with defendant, Katie, Thomas Harrington, and Dwayne. They were "out drinking and partying." Steven testified that at Montrose Harbor defendant "started to get a little goofy and was talking about pushing someone in the water." Steven added that "[defendant] said would [it] be funny if I [defendant] pushed someone in the water." Steven testified this made him nervous because he is unable to swim. Defendant then broke away from the group, saying he was going to go watch the sun rise. The group, absent defendant, began to walk back toward the car. As they were about halfway to the car, Steven heard a loud splash from behind him. The group then ran toward Katie's car. Everyone got in the car and defendant said "go, go, go." Katie, driving, made a U-turn and drove away. Steven testified that "[defendant] said the guy looked hot and he needed to go for a swim. I [defendant] pushed him in." On Monday, defendant called him and they met at defendant's residence. The next morning, Steven received a call from the Chicago police department asking him to come in.
¶ 20 Thomas Harrington, Dwayne Thomas, Katie Hoffman, and Steven Harrington all testified that when speaking with the police initially they were not truthful, but that eventually they told the police the truth.
¶ 21 The State later called Tracy Stanker to the stand. Stanker, who worked for the Cook County State's Attorney in the grand jury unit at the time of the incident, testified regarding the grand jury testimony of Thomas Harrington, Dwayne, Katie, and Steven. She testified that before the grand jury, Dwayne testified that defendant stated he saw someone fishing who looked hot, so he pushed him into the lake.
¶ 22 The State called three bystanders, who were at or near Montrose Harbor at the time of the incident, to testify. Lance Shirahama and Chung In were fishing at Montrose Harbor and Thomas Earley was taking a walk in the area. Shirahama testified that on the morning of the incident, he was at Montrose Harbor setting up his fishing equipment. He said it was light enough for him to see what he was doing while setting up his fishing equipment. He noticed a man on the same side of the harbor as him fishing near the water. Minutes later, he saw a group of five people gather by a bench near the parking lot. The group consisted of one female and four males. He next heard a splash and saw someone running alone. He noticed the splash come from the same place he had previously noticed the other fishermen. The group of people he had seen gathered by the bench walked toward their car. He used his net to reach for the person in the water, but was unable to do so. He witnessed the man in the water struggling, and then go under the water. Shirahama yelled for help and ran after the man he had noticed running from the scene.
¶ 23 On cross-examination, Shirahama testified that at the time of the incident the conditions were "not dark but not light." He also acknowledged that he did not actually see anyone being pushed into the lake, but only heard the splash.
¶ 24 Chung In testified he was at Montrose Harbor fishing at the time of the incident. He saw a man fishing under a lamppost. Next he saw another man walk behind the fisherman and push him from behind with both hands into the water. He yelled out at the man doing the pushing. The man ran toward the parking area. He observed the fisherman struggling in the water and another fisherman attempting to hand him a fishing net. He testified that he called the police. He testified that he previously saw that the man who pushed the fisherman with several other people, but that he was alone when he pushed the fisherman into the water. He could not make out the details of the man's face.
¶ 25 Thomas Earley testified he was walking on Montrose Drive near Montrose Harbor. As he was walking, he heard a man whom he now knows is Lance Shirahama yelling "call 911." He also noticed four people moving at a fast pace, with a fifth person following the group "sprinting." The group was headed for the parking area of Montrose Drive. The group, including a fifth person who had by this time caught up with the others, got into a white Dodge Neon automobile and made a fast "U-turn out of the parking lane."
¶ 26 The State called several law enforcement personnel who testified regarding their respective investigations of the incident. Steven Zambello testified that he was a paramedic for the Chicago fire department at the time of the incident and arrived on the scene shortly after receiving the emergency call. He said that Doan was not responding when he was pulled from the water. Zambello testified regarding the life saving techniques he attempted on Doan, that were ultimately unsuccessful.
¶ 27 Detective Matthew Rickher testified that he and his partner were assigned to investigate the drowning of Doan. Detective Rickher testified to the recovery of evidence at the scene, including the victim's vest, which was saturated with water and weighed approximately 20 pounds and his ...