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The People of the State of Illinois v. Douglas E. Oaks

November 7, 2012


Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 14th Judicial Circuit, Henry County, Illinois, Circuit No. 92 CF 235 The Honorable Charles H. Stengel, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McDADE

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

Justices Lytton and Carter concurred in the judgment and opinion.


¶ 1 In this appeal, defendant, Douglas E. Oaks, contests the dismissal of his post-conviction petition after a third-stage evidentiary hearing. Defendant also challenges the trial court's denial of his request for leave to file supplemental post-conviction claims during the third-stage evidentiary hearing. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.


¶ 3 In 1992, defendant was charged with two counts of first degree murder for the death of his girlfriend's three-year-old son (the victim).*fn1 The State filed a notice to seek the death penalty. Defendant's family retained a private attorney to represent him. Defendant filed a pretrial motion asking the court to appoint multiple experts to assist him in preparing his defense. The court denied defendant's motion, reasoning that, because defendant was represented by private counsel, he was not indigent and therefore did not qualify for financial assistance to hire experts. As a result, private counsel withdrew from the case and the court appointed the public defender after finding defendant indigent. The matter proceeded to a jury trial.

¶ 4 Defendant testified that he became frustrated with the victim when the victim wet his pants. As a result, defendant threw the victim toward a mattress. Instead of landing on the mattress, the victim landed on the floor. Defendant denied intentionally harming the boy.

¶ 5 The State alleged that defendant violently shook the victim and slammed him against an object, causing his brain to bleed and swell, which led to his death. The State called multiple doctors who opined that the victim's injuries were so extensive that they had to be caused by violent shaking and by impact applied with a great amount of force, rather than by the actions described by defendant.

¶ 6 The jury found defendant guilty of two counts of first degree murder. After defendant waived his right to a jury for sentencing purposes, the trial court found defendant eligible for the death penalty based upon the evidence presented at the guilt phase. At the second stage of the sentencing hearing, the State presented evidence in aggravation that defendant had been arrested for drug possession in 1985, when he was 18. Defendant admitted that he had obtained the drugs, as well as several handguns, a knife, money and jewelry, when he had burglarized the home of a roommate's parents. Defendant was convicted of burglary and the drug charges were dismissed. In 1989, defendant resisted arrest after assaulting his girlfriend and breaking her arm. He was sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to undergo alcohol counseling. In 1990, defendant was arrested for public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and interfering with official acts.

¶ 7 Defendant presented, as evidence in mitigation, inter alia, the testimony of Dr. Robert Chapman, a psychiatrist. Dr. Chapman stated that he reviewed "testimony, hospital reports, autopsy reports" and defendant's videotaped statements prior to examining him in person. Based upon this examination, Dr. Chapman testified that in his opinion defendant acted under the influence of an extreme emotional disturbance when he killed the victim.

¶ 8 During the State's cross-examination, Dr. Chapman revealed that he believed that defendant was abused as a child. Chapman went on to explain that he believed the abuse suffered by defendant as a child caused him to "snap" and abuse the victim. Dr. Chapman testified that an adult who had been abused as a child could react violently to incidents that would seem insignificant to others, like the victim's wetting his pants. The trial court, in sentencing defendant, rejected Dr. Chapman's finding that there had been an extreme mental or emotional disturbance which would preclude imposition of the death penalty.

¶ 9 While his direct appeal to the supreme court was still pending, defendant filed a pro se post-conviction petition in which he claimed, inter alia, that the trial court's holding that defendant could only obtain financial assistance to retain expert witnesses if he were represented by a public defender resulted in him having to choose between two constitutional rights: the right to counsel of choice and the right to present expert witnesses necessary to the defense. The petition was amended to include a claim that defendant was deprived of effective assistance of trial counsel where counsel failed to present evidence, at sentencing, of abuse defendant suffered during his childhood.

ΒΆ 10 Ultimately, the supreme court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence. Oaks, 169 Ill. 2d at 471. ...

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