Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jefferson County. No. 03-CF-100 Honorable Terry H. Gamber, Judge, presiding.
Attorney for Appellant Gilbert C. Sison, Rosenblum, Schwartz, Rogers & Glass, P.C.
Attorneys for Appellee Hon. Douglas R. Hoffman, State's Attorney, Jefferson County Courthouse, Patrick Delfino, Director, Stephen E. Norris, Deputy Director, Patrick D. Daly, Staff Attorney, Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor.
JUSTICE GOLDENHERSH delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Spomer and Justice Chapman concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Defendant, Edward Oats, Sr., was charged by information with six counts of predatory criminal sexual assault of his ex-girlfriend's three children. After a trial in the circuit court of Jefferson County, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on three of the counts and acquittal on the remaining three counts. Defendant was sentenced to a term of natural life imprisonment. On appeal, defendant raises issues as to: (1) whether the circuit court properly admitted hearsay statements with safeguards of reliability (725 ILCS 5/115-10 (West 2008)), (2) whether he was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, (3) whether he received effective assistance of counsel, (4) whether his sentence violated the proportionality clause of the Illinois Constitution, and (5) whether his sentence was cruel and unusual in violation of the eighth amendment of the Constitution of the United States. We affirm.
¶ 2 FACTS
¶ 3 Sometime after the lunch period on March 7, 2003, Camille Jones, a substitute teacher, was approached by a third-grade student, Tyeshia K. According to Jones, Tyeshia appeared nervous and asked to speak privately out in the hallway. Tyeshia stated: "[M]y momma's boyfriend has been having sex with me, and he came last night. He's coming back tonight, and I'm sick of it." Jones stated that she wanted to be "careful" in her response, so she escorted Tyeshia into a room and gave her four sheets of paper with no other instruction than to write down the date, address a letter to "Dear Miss Jones, " and "pour your heart out."
¶ 4 After Tyeshia was finished writing, Jones escorted her to the administrative office and gave the letter to assistant principal Ed Brashear and principal Linda Hanson, who then notified the school social worker, Patricia Spicuzza. Spicuzza testified she stopped her interview and called the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) hotline upon Tyeshia telling of being sexually touched by defendant. At the recommendation of the DCFS, the police were notified. Tyeshia's siblings, Tashirah D., in sixth grade, and Travis D., in fifth grade, were held separately at school until police arrived and transported them individually to the Amy Center, a child advocacy center.
¶ 5 At the Amy Center the minors were held in separate rooms where they could not communicate with each other and interviewed individually. The interviews were conducted by Detective McElroy with Vanessa Shaw of the DCFS present in the room. In an adjacent room, Detective Gilbert observed the interviews through a closed-circuit television system designed for such interviews. Detective Gilbert took notes to form police reports.
¶ 6 After the interviews, Detectives Gilbert and McElroy, with the permission of the mother, searched the home. Gilbert testified that the bedroom where the offenses allegedly took place was laid out as described by Tyeshia, including the location of a jar of Vaseline on a dresser.
¶ 7 Later the officers discovered that the recordings of the interviews did not have audio, apparently due to failure to align the switches for the closed-circuit video. On March 11, 2003, four days after the initial interviews, a second set of interviews was conducted at the Amy Center. The minors stayed in the custody of their mother in the interim.
¶ 8 On March 14, 2003, Deanna St. Germain, D.O., examined the minors at Union County Hospital. Upon cross-examination, St. Germain admitted that there was no conclusive physical evidence of abuse for any of the minors. St. Germain conceded that any of her opinions that examination was consistent with abuse were based on the history given by each minor.
¶ 9 The State filed notice that it intended to use hearsay statements pursuant to section 115-10 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ILCS 5/115-10 (West 2008)). The court held hearings over the course of several days, which included testimony from Ken McElroy, Camille Jones, Vanessa Shaw, Patricia Spicuzza, and Linda Hanson. Shaw stated that the only significant difference between the substance of the first and second interviews was that Tyeshia described defendant as having blue boxer shorts in the first interview and red in the second. Shaw believed that the minors were otherwise consistent in their statements and demeanor. Shaw testified that besides the two interviews she did not speak with any of the children regarding the incident at any other time.
¶ 10 Detective McElroy testified that his training for interviewing minors had instructed him to ask open-ended questions and go where the child takes him. McElroy stated that he had no discussions with the minors regarding the allegations between the interviews. He testified that "pretty much everything was the same" for the first and second set of interviews and that any differences were "very minute."
¶ 11 At the conclusion of the hearing, the court found the hearsay statements of the minors reliable. The court stated:
"The [c]ourt will grant the State's request for notice pursuant to 725 ILCS 115-10 to allow hearsay statements made by the three minors, T.K., T.D. and T.D., and the [c]ourt finds the time, content and circumstances of those statements all provide sufficient safeguards of reliability. The [c]ourt heard lengthy testimony. And this occurred at school, and the substitute teacher, Ms. Jones, immediately took the children to the office. Ms. Hanson, Mr. Brashear were involved. Ms. Spicuzza was involved. The [c]ourt finds certainly that sufficient safeguards of reliability were met. This occurred immediately after Ms. Jones was made aware of the statements. So the [c]ourt will grant the State's request and will allow hearsay. Further, the State has stated that the children will be available and will testify."
¶ 12 At trial, each minor testified. Tyeshia testified defendant had made sexual contact with her:
"Q. [Attorney for State:] *** Can you tell us the types of things that would happen to you?
A. He would always rub his penis between my legs, and I would tell him that it hurted, and then he would make me suck his penis. Then he would put Vaseline between my legs and he would put Vaseline on his penis.
Q. Okay. And when you say he would rub his penis between your legs–
A. On my vagina.
Q. On your vagina. I don't want to be too graphic, but was his penis–was it inside your vagina?
A. No, but he would always try to put it in there, and I say, no, it hurt.
Q. So he would try to put it in–would put it in and it hurt, and would he stop?
Q. Okay. And you said that he put his penis in your mouth?
In particular, Tyeshia recounted defendant having contact with her and Tashirah on some bunk beds just after they were installed. Tyeshia described the defendant having "me suck his penis" and that "he would rub my butt crack, but he would never put it in there."
¶ 13 Tyeshia testified that defendant made sexual contact with her sister, Tashirah, but on less occasions. Tyeshia related that through an open door into their mother's bedroom, she saw defendant play with Tashirah's breasts, and she testified: "[Defendant] would always like–they'd go in my mom's room. [Defendant] would lay her on the bed, and he would fondle with her, like put his penis between her legs and touch her."
¶ 14 Tashirah D. testified that defendant had made sexual contact with her. Tashirah D. related that it first started happening after the family moved into a house in Mt. Vernon:
"A. [Defendant] would bring us in there (the mother's bedroom)–well, bring me in there and, of course, had the door closed or whatever. He had his little Vaseline, and he would ...