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People v. Hughes

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

December 18, 2013

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CAVINAUGH HUGHES, Defendant-Appellant.

Held[*]

Defendant’s convictions for two murders were reversed and the cause was remanded for a new trial, since defendant confessed to both murders following intensive custodial interrogation, he was 19 years of age, he only attended school through the ninth grade, he got low grades, he had substance abuse problems, he smoked marijuana in the course of his questioning, he had juvenile arrests but little experience with the criminal justice system, his detention and interrogation over a period of 16 hours with little food, minimal sleep and the untruths told by his interrogators left him in a weakened condition, the coercive tactics used by the interrogators, including a polygraph test, contributed to his vulnerability, and under the totality of the circumstances, reversal and suppression were required, and on remand, if defendant is convicted, the trial court was directed to grant defendant credit for his presentencing custody starting in 2006.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Nos. 06-CR-26159, 06- CR-26160 cons.; the Hon. John P. Kirby, Judge, presiding.

Michael J. Pelletier and Nicole Marie Jones, both of State Appellate Appeal Defender's Office, of Chicago, for appellant.

Anita M. Alvarez, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Michelle Katz and Janet Mahoney, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

Panel PRESIDING JUSTICE HYMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Pucinski concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

HYMAN, PRESIDING JUSTICE.

¶ 1 Nineteen-year-old Cavinaugh Hughes confessed to two murders while subjected to intensive custodial interrogation. Hughes does not challenge the voluntariness of one of the confessions, but he contends that the other, a later confession, should have been suppressed as a product of coercion given the totality of the circumstances.

¶ 2 There is nothing more damning than a confession. Its effect has been described as "incalculable." People v. Miller, 2013 IL App (1st) 110879, ¶ 82. Indeed, confessions constitute the strongest possible evidence the State may offer in the course of a criminal case. And because of the unparalleled weight accorded confessions in our legal system, courts should closely scrutinize confessions, especially, where, as here, police give false assurances to a vulnerable accused during a polygraph exam, and, at trial, the prosecution presents weak corroborative evidence.

¶ 3 Despite the unreliability of polygraphs as a matter of law (People v. Taylor, 101 Ill. 2D 377, 391 (1984)), police still use them to elicit confessions. And they do so with few safeguards or restrictions other than the requirement of voluntariness, which is primarily a question of fact falling on the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

¶ 4 We watched the video recording of Hughes' interrogation from start to finish. Our bird's-eye view of what occurred before the first confession and, more tellingly, between the time of the first confession and the second confession, raises intolerable doubts about the validity of the second confession. The methods the detectives used during the interrogation process contaminated this confession. The totality of the circumstances underlying Hughes' second confession establish that he lacked the ability to make a rational, unconstrained decision to confess. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for a new trial.

¶ 5 BACKGROUND

¶ 6 The Murders

¶ 7 Much of the following narrative is adduced from the trial testimony of Dorian Skyles, a prosecution witness who testified in exchange for a plea deal.

¶ 8 A rumor started by a grandchild of Elijah Coleman's sister had it that Coleman won the lottery. Joshua Stanley, who attended school with the grandchild, heard the rumor and came up with a plot to steal the money. On November 18, 2005, Stanley and one of Stanley's friends met another friend, Dorian Skyles, at an apartment Skyles shared with his girlfriend, Jetun Coburn. Stanley asked Skyles for a gun to use in the robbery, claiming the lottery winnings were kept in a safe at Coleman's house where the 68-year-old Coleman lived with his sister and her grandchildren. Skyles called defendant Cavinaugh Hughes and told him to come to the apartment. Hughes arrived with another person, and Skyles gave Stanley and Hughes revolvers.

¶ 9 Around 10:30 or 11 p.m., Skyles and Coburn left the apartment in Skyles' car, and Hughes, Stanley, and two other people left in Hughes' car. The group headed over to Coleman's house, a distance of about six blocks. Skyles parked on the street. Hughes parked in the alley behind the house. Stanley, Hughes, and the two others approached the front door, and within moments, Skyles heard a gunshot. About 5 or 10 minutes later, Skyles heard another gunshot.

¶ 10 Skyles then saw Stanley, Hughes, and the two others run from the house. Skyles and Coburn immediately drove to their apartment. Soon after arriving there, Hughes called Skyles, hysterical, saying that Stanley had shot Coleman.

¶ 11 The next day, November 19, Skyles called Hughes, and said, "[W]e need to find [Stanley]." Hughes and another friend, Cordell Matthews, went to Skyles' apartment, at which time, according to Skyles, Hughes told him he shot Coleman in the legs and that shortly afterwards Stanley shot Coleman in the head. Then, Skyles and Coburn in one car, and Hughes in Coburn's Chevrolet Impala, drove around the neighborhood looking for Stanley. At some point, Hughes switched the license plates on the Impala with temporary plates registered to his car.

¶ 12 Skyles found Stanley, told him they needed to talk, and drove Stanley to Coburn's apartment. Hughes and Matthews joined them. As they drank alcohol and smoked marijuana, they discussed the robbery and shooting. Skyles testified that he and Hughes spoke privately, and, again according to Skyles, Hughes confided in Skyles that he planned on killing Stanley.

¶ 13 Later that day Skyles told Stanley to get into the Impala with Hughes. A short time later, Hughes called Skyles to tell him he had lost the keys to the Impala, and Skyles should come and get him. Skyles picked up Hughes, who told him he had shot Stanley. About a block away, Skyles saw the Impala parked in an alley with police officers on the scene. The police found Stanley in a nearby gangway and transported him to a hospital where he died.

¶ 14 Hughes left for Michigan the next day. Skyles and Coburn reported the Impala stolen. The police, however, did not believe their story and questioned Skyles and Coburn about the murders. Skyles struck a deal with prosecutors and agreed to testify against Hughes. Skyles, in exchange for a plea to a lesser offense and reduced sentences, pleaded guilty to two counts of home invasion and conspiracy to commit first degree murder, for which he received concurrent sentences of 17 and 7 years.

¶ 15 Hughes' Arrest and Interrogation

¶ 16 Eleven months after the murders, Hughes was arrested in Michigan. On October 26, 2006, Chicago police detectives Ford and Lazarra went to Kalamazoo County, Michigan, to return Hughes to Chicago. About 2 p.m., the detectives read Hughes his Miranda rights. Hughes indicated he understood his rights and wished to make a statement. The detectives instructed Hughes to wait, handcuffed Hughes' hands behind his back, and drove to Chicago. Hughes did not talk about the murders during the ride. But he did complain about the tightness of the handcuffs and asked that he be handcuffed with his hands in front to alleviate the pain. The detectives refused Hughes' request.

¶ 17 When they arrived at the station, Hughes was placed in a room equipped with an audio-video camera. At about 3:30 p.m., with the audio-video recording, Detectives Ford and Brannigan sat down with Hughes. Almost immediately, Hughes asked the detectives to remove the handcuffs and expressed relief when they did. The detectives then left Hughes alone for about 45 minutes.

¶ 18 When the detectives returned, they took Hughes to use the restroom. Back in the interrogation room, Hughes was read his Miranda rights for the second time and was asked whether he understood his rights and would answer questions. Hughes responded "yeah" to both inquiries.

¶ 19 Periodically throughout the interrogation, the detectives provided Hughes with cigarettes.

¶ 20 Hughes claimed to have been standing outside Coleman's residence when Skyles shot Coleman in the legs and Stanley shot Coleman in the head, and that Skyles later killed Stanley to prevent him from going to the police. Hughes claimed he acted only as a lookout for the robbery of Coleman. The detectives left again at 4:39 p.m.

¶ 21 When the detectives returned some 4 hours and 40 minutes later, Hughes repeated the story. He further claimed that he was not in on planning Stanley's murder. The detectives pressed Hughes, and at about 9:30 p.m. he recanted, admitted he knew of the plan to kill Stanley, but claimed he did not know when and where it would occur. Hughes also admitted he was angry with Stanley and wanted Stanley dead for shooting Coleman. Hughes denied disposing of the gun that was used to shoot Stanley.

¶ 22 Around 10:40 p.m., Hughes agreed to provide a DNA sample. After taking Hughes to use the restroom, the detectives left him alone in the interrogation room until 11:22 p.m. During that 42-minute interval, Hughes sat, paced, and got a bit of sleep. This time when the detectives returned, they gave Hughes a soft drink and read him his rights regarding the DNA sample. An evidence technician took a swab from Hughes' cheek. The detectives and the technician left Hughes alone again.

¶ 23 At 11:46 p.m., the detectives returned. Hughes repeated his story a third time. The detectives continued questioning Hughes. Around 12:21 a.m., following a question about whether he disposed of the gun used to kill Stanley, Hughes asked:

"[Hughes]: Well, when did my grandfather die, man?
[Detective]: I don't know the exact day, but a few months ago.
[Hughes]: Was he dead in his crib?
[Detective]: He died at home, yeah.
[Hughes]: He died at home. Peaceful though?
[Detective]: Yes.
[Hughes]: Man, after we left, man, I dumped it. I dumped the three fifty-seven [revolver]. I broke it down at my house, wrapped it up in a sock man and I threw it in the river, man. I threw it in the river by the border going towards Indiana."

¶ 24 After this admission, Hughes still maintained Skyles shot Coleman in the legs and killed Stanley. The detectives again asked if Hughes shot Coleman. Again Hughes denied it, telling the detectives, "Man, though like if y'all whatever man court people look at me for that old man G, that's why I was mad, man. I did not do shit to that old man. My grandfather, man, shit, I just found out yesterday." The detectives asked about the identity of the two others who participated in the robbery. Hughes denied knowing their names, but said about Stanley:

"[Hughes]: That na [Stanley] had no business whacking that old man for no reason at all even after Dough [Skyles] shot that na [Coleman] in the leg. After Dough [Skyles] shot him in the leg it wasn't even–wasn't even–got to do shit else to him. He was down.
[Detective]: Well, you know what the fatal shot to that old man, was the leg shot. He bled to death.
[Hughes]: But he got shot in the head though.
[Detective]: It went through the cavity and ended up in his mouth. That did not kill him. It's fucked up, uh?
[Hughes]: Hell yeah that's fucked up. That's bogus. And I don't be–I don't even be praying everyday for me to get me out of trouble, G. I pray everyday for that old man, Joe, straight up man. I loved my grandfather, Joe, I would have never–I would never got down like that. Straight up, man.
[Detective]: You were pretty pissed at Josh [Stanley], uh?
[Hughes]: Man, I was mad as hell."
At trial, the parties stipulated that Coleman died of "multiple gunshot wounds, " not of any specific wound.

¶ 25 The detectives left Hughes at 12:38 a.m. While alone, Hughes smoked, paced, and talked to himself, mumbling "It's over man. They know everything." He spoke aloud to his dead grandfather, "Man, Pops, your ass dying on me, man. I sure needed you during this shit, man, " and "You disappointed in me right now, you know. Man, I started out as your everyday school boy. Ain't nobody loved me, Jesus. Man, outta here, fool. It's over." (Hughes argues he said "Everybody loved me" rather than "Ain't nobody loved me, Jesus." The transcript does not clarify this.) Around this time, Hughes pulls some kind of cigarette out of his underwear and rolls it. At 12:54 a.m., the detectives returned, and the interrogation continued,

"[Detective]: We came to an understanding here, right? You're not going to bullshit me no more? Here's–there's only one thing I have an issue with. Okay. And that's with who shot Josh [Stanley]. Okay. You're just–you're getting charged with the same thing regardless, okay.
[Hughes]: For both of them?
[Detective]: Well, we'll see. But now here's the deal. I'm willing to tell you right now that I believe you when you tell me you did not shoot the old man. Okay. And there's where we're going to let it out you said you did not shoot the old man, but I know that pissed you off to no end because of your grandfather, right? Now Josh stole the last couple of months of your life away from spending it with your grandfather and you're fuckin' pissed. I know you were pissed. You were the one that changed the plate on the car, you were the one that ended up with the gun, and you told Cordell that you shot Josh. You know that we have other information that there's other people looking out their windows and shit and you and Dough [Skyles] look nothing alike. You're–you're heavy and he's skinny.
[Hughes]: I shot Josh [Stanley]."

¶ 26 After 9½ hours, Hughes confessed to killing Stanley. He still insisted, however, that Skyles shot Coleman in the legs. The detectives questioned Hughes some more, and left at 1:04 a.m.

¶ 27 While the detectives were out of the room, Hughes can be seen mumbling to himself and pacing. The detectives came back at 1:22 a.m. with a sandwich and another soft drink for Hughes, and left.

¶ 28 At 1:35 a.m., the detectives returned and requestioned Hughes about the shooting of Coleman in the legs. Hughes denied he shot Coleman. The detectives asked Hughes if he would be willing to sit for a polygraph examination. Hughes consented. The detectives said the polygraph would be given in the morning. They gave Hughes a lit cigarette and left.

¶ 29 While Hughes paced, he reached inside his pants and carefully rolled, lit, and smoked something, which he finished shortly after 2 a.m. Then, lying on a cot, he appears to close his eyes and sleep.

¶ 30 Less than a half hour later, the detectives reentered the room and turned on the lights, and the following conversation took place:

"[Detective]: Change of plans bro, ...

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