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People v. Coleman

Supreme Court of Illinois

October 3, 2013


JUSTICE THEIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.



¶ 1 The central issue in this appeal is whether the circuit court of Peoria County's decision to deny relief to defendant Christopher Coleman following an evidentiary hearing on his second successive postconviction petition, which raised a claim of actual innocence, was manifestly erroneous. In resolving that issue, we also must address whether People v. Washington, 171 Ill.2d 475 (1996), which announced the standard in Illinois for evaluating postconviction claims of actual innocence, should be discarded in favor of a more rigorous standard with roots in federal law.

¶ 2 Today, we reaffirm our holding in Washington, and reverse the judgments of the circuit court and the appellate court (2011 IL App (3d) 100419-U) and remand for a new trial.


¶ 4 On August 22, 1994, several men entered a house in Peoria, where Bertha Miller lived with her two daughters, Tequilla and Tekelia, and her two sisters, Myre Lott and Angela Stimage. The men demanded money, then threatened and beat the occupants of the house. Two of the men took Tekelia into a bathroom, and one of them sexually assaulted her. She was 17 years old. When the police arrived, some of the men escaped. James Coats, Tekelia's assailant, and Robert Nixon were arrested at the house. At the police station that night, Tequilla saw Nixon and the defendant, who had been arrested at his girlfriend's nearby apartment in connection with the attack, walking with police officers. Tequilla subsequently identified the defendant in a photo array and a lineup as one of the men. He was indicted for armed robbery, aggravated criminal sexual assault, home invasion, and residential burglary. Several months later, the defendant was tried before a jury.

¶ 5 Because our decision ultimately rests on the evidence presented at the defendant's trial and his postconviction evidentiary hearing, a thorough review of the record is necessary.

¶ 6 The State's case consisted of testimony from several of the victims, as well as two police officers and a 13-year-old named Anthony Brooks.

¶ 7 At trial, the State called 10 witnesses, and offered stipulations from 4 other witnesses.

¶ 8 Lott testified that there were six men wearing bandanas and a boy in the house during the attack. Though Lott described what happened throughout the house, she was in the living room with her head wrapped in a blanket for most of that time. Her account was based largely on what she heard for approximately two hours. She only saw the face of one of the men, whom she did not recognize, and she did not identify any of them.

¶ 9 Tequilla testified that on the night of the attack she was sleeping in her bedroom when she heard a noise. She awoke and ran to the living room, where she saw seven men, six of whom had guns, standing over Lott. The men pointed a gun at Tequilla, frisked her, and threw her to the floor, where they attempted unsuccessfully to put a leather couch pillow over her head. They wore dark clothes and bandanas, so Tequilla could see only their eyes. According to Tequilla, the men ordered her to lie still on the floor, then started beating her and Lott and demanding money. A tall man came into the living room, grabbed Tequilla by the hair, threatened to harm her if Lott did not give the men money, and cut Lott's leg. Tequilla stated the men kicked Lott in the face and pushed Tequilla back to the floor, where "a little boy" tripped over her on his way to run outside to serve as "a watch-out." The boy announced that he was tired of waiting outside, and that he did not see anyone coming.

¶ 10 Tequilla testified that two of the men took the bandanas off their faces. She did not recognize "the kind of light skin one" because she did not know him, but she recognized "the dark skin one" as "Fats" because her family had grown up with him over a five- or six-year period. Tequilla stated that she saw his face for a "good three minutes." In court, she identified this man as the defendant.

¶ 11 Tequilla testified that the boy returned to the house and said "5-o, " meaning the police were coming to the house. The light-skinned man and the dark-skinned man, the defendant, fled together out the front door. The remaining five men locked the door and ordered the victims to go upstairs to Stimage's bedroom. Tequilla sensed the police were inside the house when the men began to hide their guns by wrapping them in Stimage's clothes. Prior to the police entering the house, two of the men jumped out the upstairs window, and "[t]he other one was trying to get into the closet, " then "some of them" tried to jump out again, but "didn't get to."

¶ 12 Tequilla further testified that she did not know whether Fats had a gun on the night of the attack because she was looking at his face. He was telling the other men what to do, and when he asked them to hurry and get the money, they beat the victims. Tequilla stated that on the day after the attack, she went to the police station, where Peoria Police Detective Rabe showed her "a whole bunch, " more than a hundred, of photographs of possible suspects. From the photographs she picked out "[e]veryone that was there, " including Fats. Later, Tequilla viewed a line-up of African-American men. From the line-up she picked out "[t]he ones that were there that night that I picked out in the photo[s], " including Fats. Tequilla stated that she picked him out "because his face stood out from the other ones." His face stood out because she remembered it; she remembered it because she knew him.

¶ 13 On cross-examination, Tequilla testified that the attack lasted approximately 30 minutes. She confirmed that there were seven men, who were all wearing bandanas. When she came into the living room, it was ransacked. According to Tequilla, Lott and two family friends were lying on their chests on the floor, but their heads were not wrapped in blankets. Six of the men were standing, and one was sitting, while the boy repeatedly exited and entered the front door. Tequilla stated that once the boy yelled "5-o, " he and two men ran out the front door. After that, when the police knocked on the door, five men remained in the house. Tequilla explained that she did not count the boy among the men. But later she stated that during the attack, "It was six dudes left in the house, and one went outside, which he was a little boy."

¶ 14 Tequilla testified that only two of the men removed their bandanas, and only for three minutes, then they left. Tequilla stated that Fats, the defendant, stayed in the living room chair "most of the time" during the attack. He only removed his bandana when he was in the living room. According to Tequilla, Miller was not in the living room during the attack. Defense counsel asked Tequilla how she could have picked out all of the men if only two had removed their bandanas, and she stated that the two men who fled out the front door had removed their bandanas in the living room, but the remaining men did so upstairs.

¶ 15 Tequilla testified that at the police station she did not disclose she had seen the faces of two of the men. She stated that several weeks after the attack she testified before the grand jury, where she was asked if she recognized any of the men, and answered that she recognized one of them, Nixon. According to Tequilla, she did not give the grand jury the defendant's name "because I didn't remember until then—until now, I mean." She "just forgot" his name. Tequilla acknowledged that she picked out Elbert Nickerson in the photographs and the line-up at the police station, and told the police that he was one of the men. Tequilla insisted that she mentioned to police at the line-up that she was unsure about whether Nickerson was one of the men. Looking at the photographs again on the day before trial, she said that Nickerson was not one of the men "because he looked different from it personally face-to-face."

¶ 16 Tequilla testified that she identified six of the men in the line-up, including the defendant, Nickerson, and Mark Roberson. According to Tequilla, the police told her that in the line-ups they had "volunteers, and then there were people that I named out that were in the line-up." When asked whether it was easy for her to pick out suspects from the line-up because she had already seen their photos, Tequilla answered, "Yes, it was, because, hey, this, people have a look similar to what the people in the picture."

¶ 17 Defense counsel turned his questioning to the boy and asked whether the boy wore a bandana. Tequilla stated that she got "a real good look" at him when he tripped over her, but she could not determine whether he had a bandana over his face, even though he was a few inches away from her. She was lying down, and her eyes were looking at his eyes. Tequilla testified that she could look at the defendant's face without the bandana from the floor, and she saw it again when she was pulled off the floor to go upstairs. At that point, she "got to see him before he left because he was sitting in the chair still."

¶ 18 On redirect examination, Tequilla testified that she was positive that the man in the chair was the defendant, and that she had seen his whole face. She did not tell the grand jury the defendant's nickname because she did not know his name. She also did not tell the police the defendant's nickname. Tequilla stated that she picked out Nickerson in the line-up, even though she was unsure he was one of the men, "[b]ecause him and the dude look similar to each other." She picked out the defendant because she was positive that his face was the face she saw on the night of the attack.

¶ 19 Detrice Friend, Tekelia's boyfriend who was at Miller's house during the attack, and Edward Gaffney, a Peoria police department officer who responded to a call about the attack, testified. Neither identified the defendant.

¶ 20 Miller testified that on the night of the attack she was asleep in her bed, when one of her daughters shook her and said they were being robbed. Miller awoke to see a gun in her daughter's mouth. According to Miller, she followed the directions of the men and handed them her purse. She stated that she gave it to the defendant. The State asked Miller about him.

"Q. And as you sit here today, how do you know Christopher Coleman?
A. Because I know his voice, and I know how he walk.
Q. What is distinctive about his walk?
A. Walk kind of crooked like. He doesn't walk like a regular walk.
Q. And what about his voice was familiar to you?
A. I know his voice. He done growed up, but I know his voice from being a kid.
Q. How do you know him from being a kid?
A. I used to run around the street with his mom when we was younger. He was, he at my house and what happened.
Q. So how long have you known Christopher Coleman?
A. About 19 or 20 years."

¶ 21 Miller gave the men her purse because they had threatened to kill her daughter. The men asked her for more money, and she said that Lott had it. The men thought Miller was lying, so they flipped her mattress and found more money. According to Miller, the men started beating her, struck her head, and put a knife to her back. They threatened to hurt her daughters if she did not give them all of her money. Miller suggested that the man get a job, and he smashed a vase on her head. Miller testified that she pleaded for the men to leave, but they insisted that they expected to find $1, 500 in the house. The men then repeatedly beat and kicked Miller, while she had a foot in her back and a gun in her face. She heard crying, as the men took Tekelia into the bathroom and raped her.

¶ 22 Miller testified that there were six or seven men in the house when the police arrived. The police called for her and said they would not leave until they spoke with her. She told them that she could not get up because she was under her mattress. The police eventually helped her to her feet, and she ran to the back door with Tekelia, whom the men had released to stop the police from coming through that door. The police ordered Miller and Tekelia to take cover behind a truck sitting in the yard. Miller saw two men jump from the window, and she screamed to tell the police. Those two men escaped, but a third man who jumped from the window was apprehended. According to Miller, the third man was Coats. The police apprehended Nixon inside the house.

¶ 23 On cross-examination, Miller testified that during the attack she did not leave her bedroom until she ran to the back door. Miller stated that the men had scarves over their faces and hats on their heads. Two or three of the men stayed in her room at all times during the attack. She could not recall "how many hours" the attack lasted, but she knew it was a long time.

¶ 24 Miller stated that she knew the defendant "real well" from his walk. She did not see his face, or any of the men's faces, until she saw Nixon's face after he was apprehended and brought out of the house by the police. During the attack the defendant was standing in her bedroom doorway while other men beat and kicked her. He took her purse and ordered one of the men to hit her with the vase. Miller insisted to defense counsel that the defendant was one of the men: "You understand me, ***he was there. Do you understand what I am saying? I know him. Can nobody doubt me that I would know him. Thank you, sir. I know that he was there." She added:

"I know that from his voice, and I know that from his walk. I was not blind. *** I know his voice from being an individual; I know his voice from being an adult, too. I seen Chris Coleman a lot of time. I don't associate with him because I have no right. He's a kid to me, but I know Chris Coleman."

¶ 25 Miller testified that she did not give the police details about the men because she was "shook up" after the attack, and she did not give the police the defendant's name because they did not ask her in detail about him. She would have told the police more if they had asked her more questions. On re-cross-examination, defense counsel asked Miller if, when questioned before the grand jury about the identity of the men, she remembered saying, "I know Chris Coleman from a little kid, but I didn't know at the time that was him." She stated that she might have given that answer.

¶ 26 Tekelia testified that she did not know how many men were in the house during the attack, but mentioned that a boy was with them. She stated that one of the men smashed a vase over her mother's head, then forced her into the bathroom, where another man sexually assaulted her. She identified that man as Coats, but she did not identify any of the other men.

¶ 27 Stimage testified that she was upstairs when the attack began, and that it lasted for approximately one hour. She saw the faces of four of the men, including a light-skinned man, who threw her into a wall and caused her to lose consciousness for several seconds. Like Lott, Stimage did not identify any of the men.

¶ 28 Peoria police department Officer Walter Jatkowski testified that he processed the inside of the house for evidence on the night of the attack. According to Officer Jatkowski, fingerprint and palm prints that he lifted from the floor of the bathroom indicated Coats was the man who sexually assaulted Tekelia. On cross-examination by defense counsel, Officer Jatkowski stated that none of the fingerprints he lifted from the house matched the defendant. On redirect examination, Officer Jatkowski explained, "I don't have fingerprints that match up to Chris Coleman. I can't put him at the scene, but I am not eliminating him from being at the scene, just physical evidence, there's nothing that shows."

¶ 29 The State offered stipulations from two nurses and a doctor at Methodist Hospital in Peoria, as well as a forensic scientist at the Morton Crime Lab, who would have testified regarding the sexual assault on Tekelia. None of these witnesses would have testified regarding the defendant.

¶ 30 Anthony Brooks testified that he was 13 years old and was on juvenile probation for the home invasion of Miller's house. According to Brooks, he went to the house on the night of the attack with "Bug, " Nixon, and "light skin" Fats. Brooks stated that there was another Fats. He also stated that the Fats who was at Miller's house was not in the courtroom, but that Fats, "the light skin one, kind of chubby, " was in a holding cell at the courthouse that morning.

¶ 31 Brooks testified that he was interviewed by Detective Pat Rabe of the Peoria police department on the day of the attack.

"Q. At that time, did you or did you not tell Detective Pat Rabe that Christopher Coleman was with you on the morning of August 22, 1994?
A. There was two Fats on that day when he ...

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