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People v. Stahl

Supreme Court of Illinois

May 22, 2014



Amnesia as to the events surrounding the crime charged does not per se create unfitness for trial, but, under the totality of circumstances test, an unfitness finding was upheld as not against the manifest weight of the evidence where such an accused also had difficulties with short term memory which impacted his ability to communicate with counsel and assist in his defense.

For APPELLANT: Ms. Jennifer Lynn Camden, Staff Attorney, Mt. Vernon, IL; Ms. Gopi Kashyap, Assistant Attorney General, Chicago, IL; State's Attorney St. Clair County, St. Clair County Courthouse, Belleville, IL.

For APPELLEE: Mr. Matthew Patrick Young, Mr. Justin Alexander Kuehn, The Kuehn Law Firm, The Kuehn Law Firm, Belleville, IL.

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


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[¶1] Due to brain damage from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his face, defendant, Terris E. Stahl, cannot remember any of the events surrounding the incidents leading to home invasion (720 ILCS 5/12-11(a)(4) (West 2010)) and aggravated unlawful restraint (720 ILCS 5/10-3.1(a) (West 2010)) charges against him. The trial court found defendant unfit to stand trial. Later, after a discharge hearing, he was found " not not guilty" of the charges against him and the circuit court of St. Clair County remanded him to the Department of Human Services (DHS) for extended terms of treatment of 24 months for home invasion and 15 months for unlawful restraint. After DHS determined that defendant had been restored to fitness, a fitness restoration hearing was held and the trial court found that defendant remained unfit to stand trial and that it was not reasonably probable that he would be fit within one year. The State appealed, arguing that the trial court's ruling that defendant remained unfit to stand trial was against the manifest weight of the evidence because a defendant's amnesia related to the events surrounding the charges against him is not sufficient, in and of itself, to support a finding of unfitness. The appellate court affirmed. 2013 IL App (5th) 110385, ¶ ¶ 19, 33, 984 N.E.2d 584, 368 Ill.Dec. 638. This court granted the State's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. July 1, 2013).


[¶3] The following testimony about the crimes was presented at the discharge hearing held after the initial finding of unfitness. Defendant's former wife, Erin Kreup, filed for divorce from defendant, and shortly thereafter he threatened to shoot her. Erin then sought and obtained an order of protection, which prohibited defendant from entering her home or coming within 500 feet of her. She also

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changed the locks and installed an alarm system at her home.

[¶4] A few weeks later, at approximately 4 a.m. on April 6, 2009, defendant broke into Erin's home. At the time, Erin and Owen, the four-year-old son of Erin and defendant, were asleep in the master bedroom; Owen's babysitter, Alyssa Schmitt, was asleep on the living room couch; and Chuck Smith, a mutual friend of Erin and defendant, was asleep in the guest bedroom. Erin and Alyssa were awakened by sounds of breaking glass and the alarm going off. Defendant entered Erin's bedroom and forced her into the living room at gunpoint. Erin managed to dial 911, scream for help, and report that defendant was in her home before defendant knocked the phone out of her hand. By this time, defendant had awakened Chuck at gunpoint.

[¶5] Defendant told Erin, Alyssa, and Chuck that they were all going to die that night and, at gunpoint, ordered them into the basement. There, defendant put a gun in Erin's face, stating he would change because he wanted his family to work and did not want anyone else to be with Erin. Defendant then put a gun to his head and threatened to kill himself. When Erin told him not to, defendant pointed the gun at her, moved the gun slightly away, and fired, saying, " Now you know I'm serious, bitch."

[¶6] After defendant separated Erin from Alyssa and Chuck, he told Erin that his keys did not work and that he had walked around the house for 30 to 40 minutes trying to get in before using a hammer to break the back door. He threatened to kill Erin and himself and stated that the burglar alarm was the only thing that saved Erin's life.

[¶7] Defendant allowed Alyssa to go upstairs to check on Owen after they heard a noise upstairs. While Alyssa was upstairs, she saw a police officer outside and motioned to him, holding her hand in the shape of a gun and pointing to her head and then pointing down the hallway toward the basement door. The officer returned to his squad car and called for backup. Alyssa took Owen and left the house.

[¶8] Defendant continued holding Erin and Chuck at gunpoint. Defendant told Erin that if he could not have her, he would kill her. A tactical response team arrived, and an officer tried to talk to defendant by megaphone. Defendant eventually decided that he would talk to an officer he knew, if that officer was there. Defendant sent Chuck upstairs to see if the officer was there. Police officers directed Chuck out the front door.

[¶9] When Chuck did not return to the basement, defendant again threatened to kill Erin and stated that he would not go to prison " over this." He told Erin to tell Owen that he would always love him, to take Owen to his parents' house, what to do with his insurance policy and car, how to arrange his funeral, and to visit his grave site with cigarettes and flowers. He said goodbye to Erin, kissed her cheek, hugged her, and told her to leave. As she backed up toward the stairway, defendant, pointing a gun at her, said, " I'll see you on the other side." She turned to go up the stairs, heard a gunshot and ran up the stairs. When she exited the house, she was hysterical and said that defendant had shot himself in the face.

[¶10] Defendant was found lying face down and bleeding at the top of the basement stairs. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The crime scene revealed blood near defendant's head, down the basement steps, in the basement away from the steps to the southwest corner, and in the corner. No blood was found on

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Erin, Alyssa, or Chuck. Two firearms, both operational and in firing condition, were found in the basement: (1) a .22-caliber revolver found in a pool of blood with its hammer cocked, two discharged casings, and seven unfired cartridges in the cylinder; and (2) a .32-caliber revolver with one fired cartridge and four unfired cartridges in the cylinder. The glass in the rear door to the house was shattered.

[¶11] Firearms expert Ronald Locke testified that, in his experience, there have been cases where someone with a severe gunshot wound to the head continued to have the ability to fire and/or reload a weapon. Locke did not examine defendant's ability to reload a weapon or conduct additional testing normally performed in suicide cases. Police did not take Erin's fingerprints, test her for gunshot residue, or examine the firearms and bullets in comparison to defendant's alleged position and injuries; nor did police find a fired bullet in the basement.

[¶12] Defendant survived his injury and, in May 2009, was charged by complaint with home invasion and aggravated unlawful restraint. Defendant was conditionally released to live with his parents because the county jail could not meet his medical needs. In June 2009, defendant was indicted on both charges.

[¶13] On October 1, 2009, defendant filed a motion challenging his fitness to stand trial under article 104, " FITNESS FOR TRIAL, TO PLEAD OR TO BE SENTENCED," of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code). See 725 ILCS 5/104-11 (West 2010). Prior to the hearing on this motion, two psychiatrists had provided opinions as to defendant's fitness: Dr. Kenneth Gilbert and Dr. John Rabun. Dr. Gilbert initially interviewed defendant on July 30, 2009, after defendant's mother hired him to evaluate defendant's risk of suicide. On January 18, 2010, Dr. Gilbert provided a report based on his July 2009, evaluation. He opined that defendant suffered two types of memory deficit as a result of the gunshot wound. First, defendant could not recall the events at issue or anything that happened in the 48 hours leading up to those events. Second, his ability to form new short-term memories was severely impaired. While Dr. Gilbert found defendant to be totally aware of the charges against him and the potential for long-term punishment if convicted, he found defendant unfit to stand trial because of his inability to recall the events of the day in question. Dr. Gilbert also found that defendant could not cooperate with his attorney to assist in his own defense because his short-term memory impairment would make it impossible for him " to track what happened in court from one day to the next," and because he lacked an " appreciation of the seriousness of the potential consequences for his life." Dr. Gilbert thought that it was ...

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