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People v. Lerma

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

September 8, 2014

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
EDUARDO LERMA, Defendant-Appellant

Page 96

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 08 CR 9899. Honorable Timothy J. Joyce, Judge Presiding.

SYLLABUS

Defendant's convictions for first degree murder, personally discharging a firearm that caused death, and aggravated discharge of a weapon in connection with a murder were reversed and the cause was remanded for a new trial on the ground that the trial court committed reversible error by denying defendant's motion to present expert testimony on the misconceptions commonly involved in evaluating identification testimony, since the record showed that the trial court failed to give proper consideration to the proffered testimony, especially when defendant alleged that his convictions stemmed from factors underlying these misconceptions, and the trial court was directed to allow the expert testimony subject to Rule 702 of the Illinois Rules of Evidence.

Michael J. Pelletier, State Appellate Defender, Office of the State Appellate Defender, Chicago, IL, (Alan D. Goldberg and Linda Olthoff, of counsel), for APPELLANT.

Anita Alvarez, State's Attorney, County of Cook, Richard J. Daley Center, Chicago, IL, (Alan J. Spellberg and Janet C. Mahoney, of counsel), for APPELLEE.

JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Simon and Liu concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

HARRIS, JUSTICE

Page 97

[¶1] A jury convicted defendant, Eduardo Lerma, of first degree murder, personally discharging the firearm that caused death, and aggravated discharge of a weapon in connection with the May 3, 2008, murder of Jason Gill. The only living eyewitness to the shooting, Lydia Clark, identified defendant. Clark and Jason Gill's father, Bill Johnson, both testified that a critically wounded Gill stated that defendant had shot him. Prior to trial, defendant sought to have an expert witness, Dr. Solomon Fulero, testify on eyewitness identification. The circuit court denied the motion, finding that because Clark, Gill, and defendant were acquaintances, expert testimony was not required. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Fulero passed away. During trial, defendant indicated to the court that he had secured a new expert witness, Dr. Geoffrey Loftus. He renewed his motion and submitted a report describing Dr. Loftus's anticipated testimony, which, unlike Dr. Fulero's report, directly addressed the effects of eyewitness identification when the eyewitness and the suspect are acquaintances. The circuit court denied the motion, relying on its reasoning as stated in its denial of Dr. Fulero's testimony. At issue is whether the circuit court abused its discretion when it denied defendant's motion to allow Dr. Loftus to testify regarding eyewitness identification testimony. We hold the circuit court abused its discretion because it did not carefully consider or scrutinize Dr. Loftus's anticipated testimony before denying defendant's motion.

[¶2] JURISDICTION

[¶3] The circuit court sentenced defendant on May 23, 2012. Defendant timely filed his notice of appeal on June 6, 2012. Accordingly, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to article VI, section 6, of the Illinois Constitution and Illinois Supreme Court Rules 603 and 606, governing appeals from a final judgment of conviction in a criminal case entered below. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI,§ 6; Ill. S.Ct. R. 603 (eff. Feb. 6, 2013); R. 606 (eff. Feb. 6, 2013).

[¶4] BACKGROUND

[¶5] The State charged defendant by indictment with first degree murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm, and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon for the May 3, 2008, shooting death of Jason Gill. At the time of the shooting, approximately 11:20 p.m., Gill and Lydia Clark were on Gill's front porch when defendant, whom she knew as " Lucky," allegedly approached the porch and shot at Gill and Clark. Clark dragged the critically wounded Gill into the house. Gill, in the presence of both Clark, and his father, Bill Johnson, who came onto the scene after hearing gunshots and Clark's screaming, stated that " Lucky" shot him. Gill and Clark are African-American while defendant is Hispanic.

[¶6] Prior to trial, defendant filed a motion in limine to allow a licensed psychologist and attorney, Dr. Solomon Fulero, to testify as an expert witness on memory and eyewitness identification. Defendant argued that Dr. Fulero would assist the

Page 98

trier of fact with his specialized knowledge of information not commonly known by laypersons and that few jurors know the theory of memory within the field of psychology. Rather, jurors rely on many of the misconceptions of memory and eyewitness identification that Dr. Fulero would address. Defendant alleged that cross-examination of eyewitness testimony would appear insignificant to jurors due to their common misperceptions and lack of knowledge regarding memory and eyewitness identification.

[¶7] Defendant attached Dr. Fulero's resume and a report showing Dr. Fulero anticipated testifying that the following factors present in defendant's case illustrate common misconceptions about eyewitness identifications: the confidence of the witness does not related to accuracy; the reliability of an identification is reduced by stress or the presence of a weapon; the overestimation of time frames by an eyewitness; cross-racial identification problems; the forgetting curve and the effect of time on the reliability of an identification; the impact of partial disguises, such as a hood, on identification; " the effect of postevent information" ; the problems associated with night time identification; and that multiple witness identifications and dying declaration identifications are not necessarily more reliable. Dr. Fulero would have also testified that the accuracy of eyewitness identifications could be reduced by police procedures utilized in this case. Defendant argued Dr. Fulero would have also addressed how common misconceptions of memory are in conflict with the theory of memory as generally accepted in the field of psychology.

[¶8] Dr. Fulero reported that he also intended to testify as to the reliability of dying declarations. Specifically, that a dying witness's physical condition could contribute to a lie or mistake; the dying witness's account may be truncated, incomplete, or one-sided due to the limited time to communicate; that, depending on the witness, such a witness may lie or extract revenge; and that the listener may miscomprehend the statement from a dying witness. Dr. Fulero also noted that " the factors that affect eyewitness reliability *** are just as present at the time of an event that involves a dying witness as one who is not dying."

[¶9] In reply, the State stressed that Illinois courts had consistently upheld a trial court's decision to bar expert testimony concerning witness identification. The State considered Dr. Fulero's proposed testimony as within the common knowledge of the jury and would not aid it. The State argued that any identification issues defendant may have were better addressed by thorough cross-examination, closing argument, and jury instructions. The State found defendant's case to be factually distinguishable from Dr. Fulero's report because the eyewitnesses[1] in this case knew defendant and identified him to the police by name, a fact Dr. Fulero failed to consider. The State also pointed out that defendant failed to cite any authority that would allow Dr. Fulero to testify regarding the reliability of dying declarations.

[¶10] In a supplemental response, the State argued that Clark was the only eyewitness to the murder and knew defendant's nickname to be " Lucky." The State also pointed out that Dr. Fulero testified, in an ...


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