Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 08-CF-3783 Honorable Christopher R. Stride, Judge, Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Birkett
JUSTICE BIRKETT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McLaren and Hutchinson concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Defendant, Ronex Mutesha, appeals his conviction of aggravated battery to a peace officer (720 ILCS 5/12-4(b)(18) (West 2008)). He contends that the trial court erred when it denied his request to discharge his public defender and represent himself for posttrial motions and sentencing. The State contends that the denial was proper because there was a bona fide doubt as to his fitness. However, although defendant was fit when the court decided the posttrial motions and sentenced him, his appeal of a prior unfitness determination was still pending. We determine that, under People v. Elsholtz, 136 Ill. App. 3d 209 (1985), because that appeal was still pending, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the posttrial motions and sentence defendant. Accordingly, its orders on those matters are void, we vacate the denial of defendant's posttrial motions and his sentence, and we dismiss the appeal.
¶ 3 Defendant was initially represented by public defender Robin Goodstein. He was convicted based on an incident outside of the offices of International Profits and Assessments (IPA), an organization that he had lost a lawsuit against. Before the incident, defendant made phone calls to IPA, stating that he was Jesus Christ and John Kennedy and claiming that a judge took a bribe in the lawsuit. Defendant then arrived at IPA and, when approached by police officers, he spat on one of them, leading to the aggravated battery charge. A jury later found defendant guilty.
¶ 4 Before trial, defendant, who had a history of psychiatric hospitalizations but was not currently medicated, was evaluated by psychologist Karen Chantry of the psychological services division of the circuit court. The evaluation was for the purpose of assessing psychological functioning and making treatment recommendations. It was not to determine fitness to stand trial, and no findings in regard to fitness were made. Chantry found mild symptoms of a delusional disorder, but not enough for a full diagnosis. The assessment indicated a narcissistic personality disorder. Chantry wrote that defendant could benefit from therapy and psychotropic medications to stabilize his mood and to deal with aspects of his thinking that get derailed.
¶ 5 After trial, the court ordered a presentence investigation report (PSI) that would include mental health evaluations. The PSI stated that defendant had a history of mental health issues, including four hospitalizations, two of which were involuntary, and that he previously was diagnosed as bipolar/manic with psychosis. The PSI also included a follow-up report from Chantry, who found that there was an open question of fitness for sentencing.
¶ 6 On January 14, 2009, Goodstein filed motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and for a new trial. On January 16, 2009, defendant sent a letter to the trial court, stating that his name meant "almighty God understand all" or "Messiah" and that the jail was his launching pad for a mission on planet Earth. He wrote that there was evidence that did not get shown at trial, that witnesses were coached and permitted to lie, and that God would have found him not guilty.
¶ 7 On February 20, 2009, defendant sought to proceed pro se with Goodstein as backup counsel. The court stated that it believed that Goodstein did an excellent job as counsel, and it discussed defendant's allegations with defendant and Goodstein. The court then stated that it would not discharge Goodstein or appoint her as standby counsel. However, the court said that it would consider defendant's allegations as a supplement to Goodstein's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The court then said that it would take everything under advisement and hold a hearing, because it appeared that defendant was continuing to prepare a motion for the court.
¶ 8 On March 25, 2009, Goodstein informed the court that defendant had filed a "supplemental motion for acquittal" that alleged in part that she had conspired with the State to deny him a fair trial. The matter was continued and, on April 24, 2009, the court appointed Gillian Gosch as conflict counsel under People v. Krankel, 102 Ill. 2d 181 (1984), to address defendant's concerns.
¶ 9 Defendant's motion was 129 pages and included lengthy rambling arguments based primarily on the history of slavery, the meaning of his name and the names of others, multiple religious references, and alleged prophetic visions. On June 5, 2009, after several continuances, the trial court told defendant that, after reading the motion, it reviewed the mental health evaluations in the PSI. Over objection, the court then found that there was a bona fide doubt as to his fitness and ordered a fitness evaluation. On June 26, 2009, the court clarified that it had not yet ruled on any of the posttrial motions. Defendant later requested the appointment of an outside expert. At a hearing on the matter, defendant stated that he was representing himself.
¶ 10 Dr. Anthony Latham conducted the fitness evaluation and concluded that defendant did not possess the rational thought necessary to cooperate with his attorney concerning mitigation evidence or to appeal the guilty verdict. He recommended that defendant be found unfit for sentencing and committed to a mental health center where he could be treated. He found a fair probability that defendant could attain fitness within a year.
¶ 11 On September 4, 2009, the fitness hearing was held. Defendant stated that the hearing was improper because the judge was not impartial and the prosecutor, doctors, and witnesses would lie. He said that he was not represented by his counsel and that he was representing himself. The court told defendant ...