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The People of the State of Illinois v. Semaj Walker

December 31, 2012


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 08-CF-291 Honorable Daniel P. Guerin, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hutchinson

Illinois Court of Appeals, District 2

JUSTICE HUTCHINSON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McLaren and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.


¶ 1 Following a jury trial, defendant, Semaj Walker, was convicted of first-degree murder under a felony-murder theory (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3) (West 2006)) and sentenced to 32 years' imprisonment. Evidence presented at defendant's jury trial revealed that defendant beat the victim, James Keniski; the victim was taken to a hospital for treatment of his injuries; the victim was a Jehovah's witness; and, based on religious reasons, the victim's wife prohibited treating doctors from giving the victim a necessary blood transfusion. The victim died soon thereafter. At trial, defendant did not claim that the jury should be given the instruction on causation that may apply in felony-murder cases. As a result, the jury was not given that instruction. On appeal, defendant claims for the first time that he was denied a fair trial when the trial court failed to give the instruction sua sponte. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

¶ 2 The facts necessary to decide the issue raised on appeal are as follows. On May 16, 2007, defendant and some other men went to the home that the victim shared with his wife, Keena Keniski. Defendant and the other men went to the Keniski home to rob the victim. While there, the victim, who had purchased drugs from one of the men before and believed that the men were there to sell him drugs again, was sitting on the bannister of the stairs leading to the basement of their home. Defendant pushed the victim as he sat on the bannister, he fell backward down the stairs, and, according to one witness, defendant then ran down the stairs and began punching and kicking the victim as the victim was lying on the ground. While this was happening, the victim's wallet, among other things, was stolen.

¶ 3 Keena called 911, and the victim was eventually taken to Elmhurst Memorial Hospital. One of the treating doctors at the hospital, Dr. Stephen Mendak, testified that he began treating the victim when he was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) at the hospital on May 17, 2007. When the victim first arrived at the ICU, he was conscious and alert. An exam revealed that the victim was suffering from multiple contusions around his face, thorax, chest, and abdomen. In addition, the victim had, among many other injuries, a hematoma, or a collection of blood, underneath his scalp. Dr. Mendak also observed a collection of blood underneath the skin around the victim's right eye. A CT scan revealed that the victim had a seven-millimeter hematoma under the lining of his brain along with a collection of blood in the space between the lining of his brain and the brain matter itself. Dr. Mendak testified that blunt force trauma would cause blood to pool in these areas.

¶ 4 Further, Dr. Mendak stated that blood had collected in the victim's chest cavity and that, because the bleeding did not stop, a chest tube was inserted. Blood also had pooled in the victim's abdominal cavity. This was caused by a superficial fracture to the victim's liver. Dr. Mendak testified that, based on proper medical procedures, doctors did not operate on the victim's liver or do anything to stop that bleeding. Rather, doctors only continued to monitor it.

¶ 5 Due to all of the bleeding and the victim's infusion of fluids, his hemoglobin count dropped. Because of that and the continued blood loss, Dr. Mendak suggested that the victim be given a blood transfusion. Given that the victim was not alert enough at this point to talk with Dr. Mendak, Dr. Mendak asked Keena whether the victim could undergo a blood transfusion. Dr. Mendak explained to Keena that "it would be fatal if [the victim] didn't get this blood transfusion." Because the victim was a Jehovah's witness, Keena refused to allow doctors to give him a blood transfusion.

¶ 6 Because the victim could not undergo a blood transfusion, Dr. Mendak gave him iron and attempted to stimulate the victim's bone marrow as a way to replace the blood loss. This did not prove to be successful, and the victim was transferred to Loyola University Medical Center on May 22, 2007, where doctors were better equipped to treat the victim.

¶ 7 The parties stipulated that, if Dr. James Santaniello were called to testify, he would indicate that he treated the victim at Loyola; when the victim was admitted to Loyola on May 22, 2007, he was alert and awake; and surgery to stop the internal bleeding and blood pooling that the victim was experiencing was unsuccessful. Given the amount of blood the victim continued to lose, Dr. Santaniello suggested that the victim undergo a blood transfusion. This was refused on religious grounds. On May 25, 2007, the victim died.

¶ 8 The parties also stipulated that, if Dr. Tera Jones, a pathologist, were called to testify, she would state that she performed an exam to determine the manner and cause of the victim's death. Dr. Jones would testify that, to a reasonable degree of medical and scientific certainty, the victim died as a result of "multiple injuries due to blunt trauma, due to an assault and that the manner of death was homicide."

¶ 9 After the State rested, defendant moved for a directed verdict, arguing that the State failed to prove that defendant caused the victim's death. Specifically, defendant claimed that the refusal to have the victim undergo a blood transfusion was an intervening cause of his death, and, as a result of this intervening cause, defendant did not "know [whether] anybody can technically legally be held accountable" for the victim's death. In reply, the State noted that the parties had stipulated to Dr. Jones's testimony and that Dr. Jones concluded that the victim died because of blunt force trauma and that the manner of death was homicide. Moreover, the State observed that Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Criminal, No. 7.15 (4th ed. 2000) (hereinafter, IPI Criminal 4th No. 7.15), which instructs the jury on causation in murder cases, provides that the defendant's acts need not be "the sole and immediate cause of [the victim's] death." Based on the State's two points, the trial court denied the motion.

ΒΆ 10 After defendant presented his case and the State presented a brief rebuttal, defendant renewed his motion for a directed verdict without making an argument. The trial court denied the motion. During closing argument, defendant never claimed that the ...

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