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The People of the State of Illinois v. Robert J. Chapman

March 22, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas

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

Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.


¶ 1 Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Will County, defendant Robert J. Chapman was convicted of the first degree murder of his girlfriend. Pursuant to section 115-20 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) (725 ILCS 5/115-20 (West 2006)), the State was allowed to enter into evidence that defendant had a prior conviction for domestic battery against the same victim. Defendant maintained on appeal that the language of section 115-20 of the Code does not permit the introduction of a prior domestic battery conviction in a trial for murder, even when it is undisputed that the murder victim was a household member of the accused and the same victim involved in the prior conviction. The appellate court affirmed defendant's conviction. No. 3-07-0799 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). This court granted leave to appeal. See Ill. S. Ct. R. 315 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010), R. 612 (eff. Sept. 1, 2006). We now affirm the appellate court.


¶ 3 The State charged defendant with the first degree murder of Cassandra Frazier, alleging that defendant repeatedly stabbed her with the intent to kill. The incident that led to Frazier's death occurred in the couple's shared apartment in Joliet, Illinois, on the evening of February 22, 2005.

¶ 4 At defendant's trial, Joliet police detective Scott Cammack testified about conversations he had with defendant shortly after the murder, and the State played two audio-taped interviews between defendant and Cammack. According to this evidence, defendant told Cammack that he considered Frazier to be his wife and that they argued often. On the day of Frazier's death, defendant consumed alcohol and used crack cocaine after work before coming home around 9:45 p.m. to their apartment. Upon arriving at the apartment, Frazier yelled at him. Defendant then took a shower and went to bed with Frazier. At that point, she yelled at him again. Defendant got out of bed, packed his clothes into a box he placed by the door, but then returned to bed naked.

¶ 5 According to defendant, Frazier stabbed him in the leg after he got back into bed. Defendant then grabbed the knife from Frazier, cutting his hand in the process. He told Frazier, "you want to stab a nigger, I will let you see how it feels." Defendant then began stabbing Frazier while they were still in bed. The two eventually fell onto the floor. Defendant straddled over Frazier while she was on the floor and continued to stab her in her upper body and neck. At some point during the attack, Frazier told defendant that she loved him. At this, defendant stopped stabbing Frazier, but left the knife sticking into her neck.

¶ 6 Defendant stated that after the attack, he left the bedroom and put on his clothes and boots. He returned to the bedroom briefly, leaving a boot track in the blood. While in the bedroom, defendant noticed Frazier remove the knife from her neck. Defendant then went to the kitchen table where he searched through Frazier's purse for money so he could pay for a taxi to get out of the area.

¶ 7 In the meantime, Frazier was badly bleeding after having removed the knife from her neck. She managed to crawl out of the bedroom and into the living room, where she was able to get on her feet. When Frazier got to the front door with her hand on the doorknob, defendant threw her back to the floor. Defendant explained to detective Cammack that he wanted to prevent Frazier from leaving the apartment because he feared she would go for help and a neighbor would become involved. Defendant estimated that he was in the apartment for about three or four minutes from the time the stabbing ended to the time he left. Defendant described the injury to his leg as having "just been grazed."

¶ 8 Karen Bergin testified that around 10:30 p.m. on the day in question she was driving west on Jefferson Street in Joliet when she spotted defendant running in the right lane of that four-lane street. He had his arms up and seemed upset. As she came to a stop and defendant approached her car, she noticed that his shirt had blood on it, and he had a minor cut on the palm side of his left middle finger. Bergin gave him a napkin, which seemed to control the bleeding. Defendant told Bergin to call 911, and she did. While they waited for an ambulance, defendant told Bergin that he "did something real bad," he "sold drugs" and they "had a fight about the drugs." Defendant also said that "she had a knife" and he "took it from her." But defendant did not tell Bergin what he did with the knife.

¶ 9 Detective Cammack testified that when he arrived at the scene on Jefferson Street, defendant was just entering the ambulance. Cammack noticed the cut on defendant's finger and a small cut on his right leg. Cammack accompanied defendant to the hospital, where defendant received eight stitches for the cut to his finger and four stitches for the cut to his leg. Defendant was released that night and taken to the police station.

¶ 10 Dr. Brian Mitchell, a board certified forensic pathologist, testified that he performed an autopsy on Frazier. He noted that she suffered 18 "sharp force injuries," including both stab wounds and incise wounds, to the upper half of her body. The cause of death was a two-inch stab wound to the right side of Frazier's neck that struck her carotid artery and jugular vein. Mitchell believed that if Frazier could have received prompt first-aid treatment and then surgery, she may have been able to survive.

¶ 11 Prior to trial, the State moved to admit evidence of a prior domestic battery conviction that defendant committed against Frazier in October 2003. The State also moved to admit evidence that defendant set fire to Frazier's apartment in November 2004. In support of its motion, the State argued that the domestic battery conviction was admissible, not just for the limited purpose of proving defendant's intent and rebutting claims of provocation and self-defense, but also as propensity evidence under section 115-20 of the Code. The trial court held that the State could introduce defendant's prior domestic battery under the statute as propensity evidence at a subsequent prosecution of defendant for the murder of the same victim. Although murder was not one of the offenses specifically mentioned in section 115-20 that allowed admission of the conviction, the statute contained expansive language that allowed the admission of the prior domestic battery in a later prosecution for any of the "types of offenses" listed in the statute. See 725 ILCS 5/115-20(a) (West 2006). The court noted that aggravated battery of a household member-one of the specific crimes listed in the statute-was similar to murder of a household member because an aggravated battery of a household member could easily turn out to be first degree murder if it results in the death of the victim. The court later noted that it had weighed the probative value of the evidence against its prejudicial effect before deciding to allow its admission.

¶ 12 The court further held that it would permit testimony of defendant's prior act of setting fire to Frazier's apartment under cases such as People v. McCarthy, 132 Ill. 2d 331 (1989), to show defendant's intent to harm the victim. See also People v. Heard, 187 Ill. 2d 36 (1999); People v. Illgen, 145 Ill. 2d 353 (1991); People v. Abraham, 324 Ill. App. 3d 26 (2001). In McCarthy, the defendant responded to the charge that he murdered his former girlfriend by claiming he shot her in a jealous rage after finding her in bed with another man. This court found that the defendant's prior acts of domestic violence toward his former girlfriend and members of her family were admissible to show the defendant's intent to harm the victim and to show that he did not commit the homicide while acting under a sudden passion. McCarthy, 132 Ill. 2d at 344.

ΒΆ 13 In accordance with the court's pretrial evidentiary rulings in the present case, Herman Ware testified about a November 2004 fire that was set in Frazier's apartment. Before Ware testified, however, the court informed the jury that Ware's testimony would involve conduct other than what was charged in the indictment and that the jury should only consider his testimony for the limited purpose of evaluating the issue of ...

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