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People v. Harris

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

October 16, 2013

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
RICARDO HARRIS, Defendant-Appellant.

Held: [*]

The dismissal of defendant’s postconviction petition was affirmed following the rejection of his contentions that the State violated its duty to disclose evidence that a witness recanted her initial identification of defendant, that his trial counsel was ineffective, that his waiver of counsel during pretrial proceedings was not knowing, and that there was a bona fide doubt of his fitness to stand trial.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 99-CR-18554; the Hon. Colleen McSweeney-Moore, Judge, presiding.

Michael J. Pelletier, Alan D. Goldberg, and Brian E. Koch, all of State Appellate Defender’s Office, of Chicago, for appellant.

Anita M. Alvarez, State’s Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg and Christine Cook, Assistant State’s Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

Justices Quinn and Pucinski concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

MASON, JUSTICE

¶ 1 Following a jury trial, defendant Ricardo Harris was convicted of two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of aggravated battery with a firearm. Harris was sentenced to death on the murder counts, and to consecutive terms of 30 years each on the remaining counts. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed Harris's convictions and sentence on direct appeal. People v. Harris, 225 Ill.2d 1 (2007). Harris's death sentence was subsequently commuted to natural life.

¶ 2 Harris, assisted by counsel, filed a postconviction petition. The circuit court granted the State's motion to dismiss the petition. On appeal, Harris contends that the circuit court erred in dismissing the petition because he made a substantial showing that (1) the State violated its constitutional duty to disclose exculpatory evidence, (2) he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel, and (3) his waiver of the right to counsel during a significant portion of pretrial proceedings was not knowing, he was not competent to represent himself, and there was a bona fide doubt regarding his fitness to stand trial. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court of Cook County.

¶ 3 BACKGROUND

¶ 4 On May 13, 1999, at approximately 7:25 p.m., the Oak Lawn police department received a report of a shooting at the Extra Value liquor store in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Police officers responding to the call discovered that four persons had been shot, store employees Dipak and Ambalal Patel and customers Christina and Helen Chisnick. The victims were transported to the hospital, where Dipak and Ambalal died from their wounds.

¶ 5 Christina and Helen went to the liquor store around 7:15 p.m. Christina parked her van in the parking spot to the right of the store entrance. There were no other cars in the parking lot and only Dipak and Ambalal were inside the store.

¶ 6 Christina and Helen walked down the aisle with the beer coolers and Ambalal walked over to assist them while Dipak remained behind the counter. Christina took a case of beer from the cooler and turned to see Dipak walking toward them and a man with a gun behind him. The man shot Dipak, then shot Ambalal and Christina. Helen heard a gunshot and saw Ambalal's chest turn bloody, then saw Christina fall to the floor. Helen turned and saw the gunman, who was standing about five feet away. Helen looked at the gunman's face for several seconds. He then shot her.

¶ 7 Helen pretended to be dead for about 20 seconds and then went to the front of the store. She saw a man and a woman, neither of whom had been in the store when she and Christina arrived. She asked the woman to call 911 and the police and paramedics arrived shortly thereafter.

¶ 8 Christina, who was shot twice, communicated briefly with an officer in the emergency room before undergoing surgery. She told the officer that the gunman was a black male, approximately 5 feet 9 inches with short, natural, black hair. A detective also interviewed Helen in the emergency room while she was being treated for a single gunshot wound to the abdomen. Helen told the detective that the offender was a black male, approximately 5 feet 11 inches and 170 pounds, and he was wearing a black shirt or jacket, black pants, and black shoes. The next day, the detective interviewed Helen at length and, with her assistance, prepared a composite sketch of the gunman.

¶ 9 In the meantime, detectives interviewed other witnesses at the scene. Jesse Lee, Jr., went to the liquor store shortly before the shootings. Inside the store, he saw a black male and a Hispanic male. When Lee left the store, he saw two other vehicles in the parking lot. A Hispanic woman and a child were in one vehicle, and a black male was sitting in the driver's seat of the other vehicle.

¶ 10 Lee drove to a gas station down the street and had been there for about 10 minutes when he heard the sirens and saw the police vehicles at the liquor store. He returned to the store, told police about the three men he had seen, and assisted the police in preparing composite sketches of the men.

¶ 11 Larry Lozano and Heather Doran both went to the liquor store shortly after the shootings occurred and before police and paramedics arrived. Lozano told detectives that one of the male victims told him the offenders were two black males. Doran told police she saw two men running on Cicero Avenue before she pulled into a gas station to buy cigarettes. Five minutes later, Doran drove to the liquor store and went inside, where one of the female victims told her that four people had been shot by two black men and asked her to call 911.

¶ 12 On May 15, after reading about the liquor store incident in the newspaper, Frank Sarelli contacted the police and informed them he had information about the shootings. Sarelli told the police he was living at the Aloha Motel, five blocks from the Extra Value liquor store. Sarelli met Harris at the motel on May 11 and smoked some crack cocaine with him. Harris then gave Sarelli money to procure more drugs. Sarelli obtained drugs for Harris three separate times at Harris's request on May 11 and 12.

¶ 13 After Sarelli delivered drugs to Harris for the third time, Harris told Sarelli he had a gun he wanted to sell. Harris showed Sarelli a black, .40-caliber Glock handgun. Sarelli made calls to several drug dealers he knew but was unable to sell the gun.

¶ 14 Harris came to Sarelli's room the morning of May 13 and asked for more cocaine. He also told Sarelli that he was no longer interested in selling the gun because his brother and cousin were coming into town from Michigan and they might want the gun. In a recording of the initial call Sarelli made to police, he described the gun as "a Glock 40 caliber semiautomatic pistol, 13 shot clip." At the time Sarelli first contacted police, there was no reward posted for information relating to the shootings.[1]

¶ 15 On the basis of the information provided by Sarelli and from information obtained from the Aloha Motel, police were able to obtain a picture of Harris from authorities in Michigan, where Harris had escaped from police custody six days before the shootings. On May 15, 1999, detectives visited Helen and showed her a photo array that included the picture of Harris they had obtained. Helen selected Harris's photo and identified him as the person who shot her.

¶ 16 Also on May 15, Jean Janeway contacted the police and told them she and her husband had gone to the liquor store shortly after the shootings. Her husband, Melville, parked the car to the right of a van that was in the parking lot. The van obscured Janeway's view of the store entrance. Janeway stayed in the passenger seat of the car while her husband went inside the store. Melville remained in the store for two to three minutes. While she waited in the car, Janeway saw a man walking on the sidewalk in front of the store. Janeway did not see him until he walked past the front of the van. The man stopped and appeared surprised to see her, then walked between her car and the van.

¶ 17 Approximately one minute later, Janeway's husband ran back to the car and told Janeway about the victims he found inside the store. Her husband said he did not see anyone else in the store. Although she did not say anything to police that evening about the man she had seen, two days later Janeway told the police that she recognized the composite sketch that had been broadcast on television the night before as the man she had seen outside the store that day. Janeway subsequently selected Harris's photo from a photo array.

¶ 18 On May 16, detectives traveled to Flint, Michigan, to interview Harris's brother, Roderick, whose name was on the Aloha Motel registration card and who was initially a suspect in the case. On May 23, a detective visited Christina in the hospital, where she was still recovering, and showed her the same photo array that had been shown to Helen, except that a picture of Harris's brother had been substituted for one of the other photos. Christina selected Harris's photograph from the array as the person who shot her. Prior to identifying Harris in the photo array, Christina had not seen any news coverage of the incident and she had not seen Harris's photo on broadcast television or in the newspaper.

¶ 19 On August 4, 1999, Harris was arrested in Charlotte, North Carolina. He had a North Carolina identification card containing his photo and the name Joaquinn Alexander McCall, and a social security card with the same name. Harris was extradited to Illinois, where the Oak Lawn police conducted a physical lineup on August 7. Christina and Helen viewed the lineup separately. In both viewings, each subject in the lineup walked up to a two-way mirror. Christina and Helen both asked for Harris to approach the mirror a second time. Both of them identified Harris. Sarelli and Janeway also viewed the lineup separately and both identified Harris.

¶ 20 Harris was initially represented by an attorney with the public defender's office. During a hearing on May 4, 2000, Harris requested the appointment of different counsel because he felt that his appointed counsel "did not want to respect" any of the things Harris thought would be helpful to his case and because Harris wanted a speedy trial. Harris further explained that he felt his appointed counsel was prejudiced against him because of his criminal history. The trial court commented that if it was a matter of a personality conflict, Harris could try to work that out with the public defender's office, but stated that Harris's only other options were to retain private counsel or represent himself. The trial court advised Harris to reconsider his request for different counsel and expressed confidence in the abilities and experience of Harris's appointed counsel. Harris proceeded with his initial counsel for more than a year after that hearing.

ΒΆ 21 On August 14, 2001, Harris again asked for the appointment of different counsel, stating that he had no trust in his counsel and that he believed his counsel was working against him. Harris's primary contention was that he believed he had been arraigned before he was formally indicted, based on his understanding of different time stamps that appeared on copies of documents he had received. The trial court assured ...


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