Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois, Circuit No. 11-CF-513. The Honorable Daniel J. Rozak Judge, Presiding.
Affirmed in part and vacated in part.
On appeal from defendant's conviction for the first degree murder and aggravated battery of a senior citizen, defendant failed to sustain his burden of establishing that the prosecutor's improper comment during closing arguments on the reasonable doubt standard constituted plain error, defense counsel's failure to request an instruction on causation did not amount to ineffective assistance, the appellate court rejected defendant's contention that he was entitled to have a new attorney argue his motion for a new trial because his trial counsel created a per se conflict of interest by arguing his own ineffectiveness, and the 30-year sentence for first degree murder was not an abuse of discretion; however, the conviction for aggravated battery of a senior citizen was vacated pursuant to the one-act, one-crime doctrine.
Michael J. Pelletier and Benjamin Wimmer (argued), both of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Chicago, for appellant.
James Glasgow, State's Attorney, of Joliet (Justin A. Nicolosi (argued), of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel), for the People.
JUSTICE McDADE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices O'Brien and Wright concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] Defendant Scott Sullivan was convicted of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 2010)) and aggravated battery of a senior citizen (720 ILCS 5/12-4.6(a) (West 2010)). He appeals and argues (1) that his conviction should be reversed because the prosecutor made improper comments regarding the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) that his attorney was ineffective for failing to request a jury instruction on causation; (3) that his attorney had a per se conflict of interest during posttrial proceedings; (4) that the trial court imposed an excessive sentence on the first degree murder conviction; and (5) that his conviction for aggravated battery of a senior citizen should be vacated under the one-act, one-crime doctrine.
[¶2] We affirm defendant's first degree murder conviction and sentence, but vacate his conviction for aggravated battery of a senior citizen.
[¶4] Defendant Scott Sullivan was the primary caretaker of his father, 86-year-old Fred Sullivan. Fred suffered from dementia. He lived with defendant and also attended adult day care five days per week. Fred was able to move with the aid of a walker and the assistance of others, and could participate in some physical activities. But he was cognitively impaired, and while he would speak to others, he was unable to carry on long conversations and often became agitated.
[¶5] On July 18, 2010, paramedics were dispatched to defendant's home in Lockport,
Illinois. When they arrived they found Fred severely injured and lying in a pool of blood. Fred had severe facial swelling, a laceration on the back of his head, and abrasions and skin tears on his arms and legs. Defendant told the paramedics that Fred had suffered a fall. The paramedics transported Fred to the hospital, and their supervisor contacted the police.
[¶6] The emergency room doctor who treated Fred was Dr. George Filiadis. When Fred arrived, he was nonresponsive and had to be intubated and put on a ventilator. Dr. Filiadis described Fred's state as " semicomatose." Given the extensive bruising injuries on Fred's head, Dr. Filadis diagnosed Fred with a " close head injury," which is a nonspecific diagnosis indicating brain trauma. He believed that Fred had " too many bruises" to have suffered a simple fall. Dr. Filadis ordered CT scans and X-rays; these tests did not reveal any fractures or brain bleeds, although Dr. Filadis stated that a hematoma could have developed from Fred's injuries after the tests were conducted.
[¶7] In August of 2010, Fred was admitted to the Salem Village nursing home, where he was deemed a " total care." Fred was fed through a feeding tube, was practically immobile and bedridden, and was not able to communicate verbally. On September 14, 2010, Fred fell and struck his head at the nursing home while being bathed by a nursing assistant. Fred died two months later in November 2010. An autopsy revealed a large subdural hematoma in his brain that was months old.
[¶8] On March 17, 2011, a grand jury returned bills of indictment charging defendant with one count of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 2010)) and one count of aggravated battery of a senior citizen (720 ILCS 5/12-4.6(a) (West 2010)). In addition to the facts above, the following evidence was adduced at defendant's trial.
[¶9] The State presented testimony from police officers who questioned defendant after Fred was injured. When Deputy Arthur Huffstuttler arrived at defendant's home on the evening of July 18, 2010, defendant stated that he got out of bed and heard Fred calling for help. Defendant found Fred in the dining room and he pulled him into the living room. Deputy Huffstuttler indicated that he smelled alcohol on defendant that evening. Defendant told police that he was not sure how Fred hurt himself, but that Fred fell often and must have received the injuries in a fall. Defendant stated that he slapped Fred's face that night in an effort to revive him, which might have injured Fred's face, and he might have injured Fred's back and legs while moving him from the dining room.
[¶10] Defendant's neighbors testified that defendant had grown frustrated with caring for Fred in the months preceding July 2010. The neighbors witnessed defendant physically pulling and dragging Fred inside the home. They could hear defendant insulting and yelling at Fred. They heard defendant say that Fred had ruined his life.
[¶11] Crime scene investigators took photos of bloodstains on the walls and ceiling of defendant's home. The investigators collected DNA swabs of the bloodstains, and the parties admitted stipulated testimony indicating to a high degree of likelihood that Fred was the source of the blood. Dr. Paul Kish, a bloodstain pattern analyst, examined the bloodstains, which indicated the occurrence of at least four
impacts of an object against a human body. He also stated that the bloodstains on the ceiling indicated that blood was cast off from an object while the object was being swung. Based on the bloodstains, Dr. Kish opined that one or two " impact splatter events" occurred in the living room of defendant's home.
[¶12] Dr. John Scott Denton was a forensic pathologist with the Will County coroner. He testified as an expert in forensic pathology. Dr. Denton reviewed photographs of Fred's injuries and stated that they indicated blunt trauma on his face and head. He also described " pattern" injuries resulting from collisions with objects of various shapes. Dr. Denton opined Fred's facial injuries were not consistent with being slapped in the face. The injuries were also not consistent with a fall because there were too many injuries on different parts of the body and the contours of the injuries were curved, which indicated more than hitting a wall or floor.
[¶13] Dr. Denton conducted an autopsy on Fred on November 15, 2010. The autopsy revealed that Fred had an " extensive" subdural hematoma in the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes of his brain. This indicated that Fred's brain had been bleeding. Dr. Denton stated that the hematoma had been healing and stated that it was not a recent injury, estimating that it was " months old." With the elderly, any injury to the head can potentially cause a brain bleed. Fred had a condition called hydrocephalous, which also carried an increased risk of brain bleeding.
[¶14] Dr. Denton also discovered pneumonia and bronchopneumonia in Fred's lungs, which was consistent with fluid aspirating into Fred's lungs. Dr. Denton determined that Fred " died from that bronchopneumonia acutely due to the subdural hematoma and the brain or cerebral injuries due to an assault related to those multiple bruises." He opined that the assault caused the hematoma, which immobilized Fred and created a situation where Fred would aspirate and develop bronchopneumonia. He testified about determining the cause of death:
" In forensic pathology or forensic medicine, it's basically a causal link. You know, is there a link between the initiating event and does that person suffer injuries that they eventually will die from and is that link unbroken? That is the main criteria.
So with Mr. Sullivan, the injuries were consistent with inflicted trauma or inflicted blunt trauma consistent with some kind of pattern injury, the linear force, and then the curvilinear area. So an object, I believe, caused those injuries from an assault.
Immediately when he went to the hospital, he was in a coma, Mr. Sullivan was in a coma. He was unresponsive.
He suffered severe injuries that put him into a coma where before he was living in a house, he was talking, he was able to walk. Now he suffers injuries that put him into a coma where he is basically dependent on a ventilator. There is a tube breathing -- a tube and a machine breathing for him because of his head injuries, and then he basically just continues on without any interruption in that capacity.
He develops aspiration pneumonia in August. He was treated for that. He was aspirating because of a head injury. So he had aspirational pneumonia in ...