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The People of the State of Illinois v. Ceneca L. Euell

May 16, 2012

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
CENECA L. EUELL,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Stephenson County. No. 10-CF-47 Honorable Michael P. Bald, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Burke

JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hutchinson and Zenoff concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Following a jury trial, defendant, Ceneca L. Euell, was found guilty of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance (720 ILCS 570/401(a)(2)(A) (West 2008)) and was sentenced to nine years' imprisonment. On appeal, defendant contends that (1) the trial court failed to comply with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 431(b) (eff. May 1, 2007) during voir dire, and (2) the State made improper remarks during its rebuttal closing argument. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 At trial, Officer Aaron Dykema of the Freeport police department gave the following testimony. In the summer of 2009, he was a member of the Stateline Area Narcotics Team (SLANT). During that time, SLANT employed David Grissom, a civilian, to help with narcotics investigations, and Grissom had been working with SLANT since approximately May 2009. On July 24, 2009, Dykema, along with Inspector Robyn Stovall, met with Grissom prior to a planned narcotics deal with defendant. Dykema searched Grissom to make sure that he did not possess any contraband or money. Dykema did not find any contraband or money on Grissom. Dykema gave Grissom $800 to finance the transaction with defendant, and Grissom was fitted with a hidden video and audio recorder. Grissom then proceeded to the area of Cherry Avenue and Elk Street. Dykema and Stovall followed Grissom until he reached the area where Inspector Scott A. Ellefson took over the surveillance. Once Ellefson took over, Dykema was no longer able to see Grissom's actions. After the transaction, Grissom left the area and Dykema was able to pick up surveillance for a period of time until Ellefson was directed to pick up Grissom. Dykema met up with Grissom at the city cemetery. Grissom handed Dykema a plastic baggie containing a substance suspected to be cocaine. Dykema searched him again and did not find any other contraband or money on him. Dykema identified defendant as the passenger of the vehicle seen in the video taken by the camera that Grissom wore during the transaction.

¶ 4 Stovall's testimony was consistent with the testimony given by Dykema. In addition, she testified that Grissom was paid a flat amount for each completed deal in which he participated. She did not recall the specific amount that Grissom was paid.

¶ 5 Ellefson testified as follows. He was a deputy with the Green County sheriff's department in Wisconsin. On July 24, 2009, as part of his duties with SLANT, he was assisting in the investigation of defendant. He was working as a surveillance officer and was stationed on Elk Street, halfway between Walnut and Cherry Avenues. Ellefson observed Grissom walking west on Elk Street from Cherry Avenue to a residence about halfway down the block. While Grissom was at the residence, Ellefson was in an SUV approximately 20 feet away from him. Ellefson watched Grissom stand outside the residence for a period of time until a silver car pulled up to Grissom. Grissom walked up to the passenger side of the vehicle and appeared to be talking with whoever was in the vehicle. Ellefson was unable to see who was in the vehicle. After a few seconds, Grissom walked away from the vehicle and the vehicle drove away. Grissom proceeded down the road, and Ellefson watched him until he was out of view. At that point, other officers took over surveillance. Ellefson was then directed to pick up Grissom, which he did. Ellefson brought Grissom back to Dykema. While Grissom was under Ellefson's surveillance, he never met with anyone other than whoever was in the silver vehicle. Ellefson videotaped his surveillance of Grissom once the silver car pulled up to the scene.

¶ 6 Edward Rottman of the Illinois State Police crime laboratory testified that he found no fingerprints suitable for comparison on the plastic baggie that Grissom turned over to Dykema after his meeting with defendant.

¶ 7 Barbara Schuman of the Illinois State Police crime laboratory testified that the white substance in the baggie that Grissom turned over to Dykema was 19.1 grams of cocaine.

¶ 8 Grissom gave the following testimony at trial. He had two convictions of possessing a controlled substance and a conviction of theft of over $300. At the time of trial, he was incarcerated on a misdemeanor battery conviction. In 2009 he was working with SLANT in drug investigations and was paid for his participation in drug buys. Although the battery charge was pending when he was working with SLANT, he did not receive any promises regarding the charge in exchange for working with SLANT. On July 24, 2009, he assisted Dykema with the purchase of drugs from defendant. Prior to meeting with defendant, Grissom met Dykema and Stovall in a MetLife parking lot. While there, he was equipped with a wire and a camera, searched, and given $800 to purchase drugs. In addition, he called defendant to arrange the purchase of an ounce of cocaine. Grissom then walked to where he was to meet defendant, in front of his friend's house on Elk Street between Cherry and Walnut Avenues. When he arrived at the house, Grissom knocked on the door, but no one answered. Grissom had to wait approximately 15 to 20 minutes before defendant arrived. When defendant arrived, he was the passenger in the vehicle. Grissom approached the vehicle, and defendant told him that the drugs were in the door. Grissom threw the money into the car, took the drugs out of the door, and talked briefly with defendant before the vehicle drove away. Because he thought that defendant might circle the block, Grissom then walked back along the side of his friend's house, looked around the corner, walked up the street a bit, tied his shoes, and then resumed walking up the street. On his way, he was picked up by another officer and driven back to Dykema's location. Once with Dykema, he turned over to Dykema the drugs he obtained from defendant. Dykema then searched him and gave him $100 for his participation.

¶ 9 The video and audio recording obtained from the devices that Grissom was equipped with during the transaction was admitted into evidence. On the recording, while Grissom walks to meet defendant, he can be heard on the phone talking to several people. He does not, however, encounter anyone on his way to the location. Once at the house, he walks to the door on the side of the house and knocks. No one answers and he proceeds to the front of the house, where he has a phone conversation. He then sits on the front steps of the house for a while. On a couple of occasions, he walks to the side of the house but does not encounter anyone. At one point, he yells across the street to someone. He also speaks with the next-door neighbor. At no point does he get within arm's length of either of these people. When defendant pulls up in the vehicle, Grissom walks up to the passenger side and has a brief discussion with defendant, but the discussion is indecipherable. Grissom's hand reaches down into the car, but the exchange of money and drugs cannot be seen. After Grissom leaves the vehicle and it drives away, Grissom walks back to the side door of the house, knocks twice, and waits a couple of seconds before walking away. Grissom loiters in front of the house for a minute or two, looking around, before he heads up the street. He does not encounter anyone until he is picked up by Ellefson.

¶ 10 The surveillance video taken by Ellefson was also admitted into evidence. In it, Grissom can be seen approaching the passenger side of a silver sedan. Grissom leans through the passenger window for a few seconds before the vehicle drives away. No one else approaches the vehicle or Grissom.

ΒΆ 11 The jury found defendant guilty. Following an unsuccessful motion for a new trial, the trial court sentenced defendant to nine years' imprisonment, ...


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