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Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois. Circuit No. 12-CF-29. The Honorable Amy Bertani-Tomczak, Judge, presiding.
The appellate court affirmed defendant's conviction for aggravated domestic battery and his sentence to the maximum term of 14 years in prison based on an incident in which he fought with his uncle and pressed his thumbs into his uncle's eyes, causing his uncle to have one eye removed and to basically lose his sight in the other eye, since the uncle was much smaller and older than defendant, and even if the uncle started the fight, defendant's response was so excessive and deadly that it could not be a legally justified use of force in self-defense, the gouging of the uncle's eyes was exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty that would qualify defendant for an extended term, and the extent of the great bodily harm and permanent disability inflicted on the uncle went beyond what was necessary to sustain a conviction for aggravated domestic battery; furthermore, the trial court did not consider an improper factor when it considered the harm inflicted in imposing a sentence and there was no indication the trial court ignored any mitigating factors in making its sentencing decision.
Michael J. Pelletier and Emily E. Filpi (argued), both of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Chicago, for appellant.
James Glasgow, State's Attorney, of Joliet (Robert M. Hansen (argued), of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel), for the People.
JUSTICE CARTER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices O'Brien and Wright concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] After a jury trial, defendant, Exulam Holman, was convicted of aggravated domestic battery (720 ILCS 5/12-3.2(a)(1), 12-3.3(a) (West 2010)) and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Defendant appeals, challenging both his conviction and his sentence. We affirm the trial court's judgment.
[¶3] On December 31, 2011, defendant was arrested and charged with one count of aggravated domestic battery and one count of aggravated battery for allegedly pressing his thumbs into his uncle's eye sockets during a fight between the two on New Year's Eve. Defendant's uncle was severely injured as a result of the incident, had to have one of his eyes removed, and lost most of the vision in his other eye. Defendant's case proceeded to a jury trial in August 2012. The evidence presented at trial can be summarized as follows.
[¶4] Defendant's uncle, Clifford Melvin, testified for the State (and later as a defense witness) that he was born in April 1949 and was 63 years old as of the date of trial. Melvin was in the Army from 1967 to 1970 and saw active duty in both Korea and Vietnam. As part of his early Army combat training, Melvin was trained in the use of judo and was taught how to use his hands and feet as weapons. Melvin was proud of his Army service and his family knew that he had served in the military. In 1995, Melvin was hit by a car and sustained numerous injuries. As a result of that accident, Melvin was left with no strength in his right hand or his right side. In December 2011, Melvin was living in the basement of his sister's residence on McKay Street (the McKay Street residence) in Joliet, Illinois. Also living at the residence was Melvin's sister, Nannetta Johnson; her husband, Michael; defendant, who was Nannetta's son and Melvin's nephew; two of Melvin's great nieces; and one of Melvin's great nephews. Melvin was about 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed about 147 pounds, and defendant was about 5 feet 9 inches or 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed considerably more than Melvin.
[¶5] On the evening of December 31, 2011, New Year's Eve, Melvin went to one of the gambling boats in Joliet at about 8:15 p.m. to meet a friend. That person did not show up, but Melvin ran into another friend at the boat. Melvin and his
friend walked around for a while and had something to eat. Melvin had some drinks that day but was careful about what he drank because he was on medications and because he had been told by his doctors not to drink excessively since he had a prior history of blacking out when he did so. According to Melvin, the doctor had told him that it was permissible for him to have a shot or a beer after 3 p.m., even though he was on daily medications. Melvin had not, however, taken his daily medicines on New Year's Eve or the day before because he knew that he was going to be drinking a little bit and he did not want to put extra stress on his liver. Melvin had a shot and a beer at noon that day at a friend's house and had another shot and a beer at about 8:30 p.m. at the gambling boat, while he was waiting for his friend to arrive. According to Melvin, he was not intoxicated when he was at the boat. Melvin left the boat at about 10 p.m., and his friend gave him a ride home.
[¶6] When Melvin got to the residence, there were other people there, celebrating the holiday. Melvin went into the house through the side door. Inside that door was a landing with two flights of stairs. One flight went down to the basement; the other went up to the kitchen. Melvin went down the stairs to his bedroom in the basement. As he was getting ready for bed, Melvin heard defendant upstairs in the kitchen. Melvin went upstairs to " get on" defendant because he thought that defendant had taken the remote control for his DVD player. Melvin was going to tell defendant that he wanted the remote control back or that he was going to call the police.
[¶7] When Melvin walked into the kitchen, defendant was seated at the table with Michael's son, Corinthian Baker, and two of Melvin's nieces, Kadijah and Charolyn Holman. Melvin's sister, Nannetta Johnson, was not home at the time. Melvin's brother-in-law, Michael, was home, but he was intoxicated. Melvin confronted defendant about the missing remote control and, as he did so, Charolyn left the kitchen and ran into the front room. The other two stayed in the kitchen. Defendant got up, told Melvin to shut up, shoved Melvin down the stairs, and slammed the door. Melvin fell backwards down the stairs and hit the wall at the landing.
[¶8] Melvin was angry and came back up the stairs. He tried to go through the door into the kitchen, but the table and chair had been pushed up against the door blocking it. Melvin was able to push the door open and squeeze through. Melvin could not get around the table, so he tried to go over the table to get to defendant because he was mad at defendant. As Melvin went over the table, defendant flipped the table over, and Melvin fell to the floor on his back. Defendant straddled Melvin, pinned Melvin's arms down with his knees, and pressed his thumbs into Melvin's eyes as he stood up with all of his weight. With his thumbs still in Melvin's eyes, defendant stated, " there's only one king," and got off of Melvin.
[¶9] Melvin eyes were bleeding, he could not see, and he was in a lot of pain. He reached for the phone on the wall to call the police, but defendant grabbed the phone out of his hand and prevented him from getting any closer to the phone. Melvin felt his way down the steps to his bedroom in the basement where his cell phone was located and called 9-1-1. At some point, Melvin passed out. The police arrived, took Melvin upstairs, and asked Melvin to explain to them what had happened.
[¶10] Melvin was later taken to Silver Cross hospital in the area and was eventually taken to the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago. He was in and out
of consciousness and did not remember arriving at either hospital. Melvin had two surgeries on his eyes at the hospital in Chicago and a third surgery at the Veterans Administration hospital. Unfortunately, the doctors were unable to save Melvin's left eye and that eye had to be removed. In addition, the sight in Melvin's right eye was limited and he had no depth perception in that eye. At trial, Melvin testified that he could only see out of his right eye if he used the special glasses that had been made for him, and that without the glasses, the vision out of his right eye was blurred, like looking through water. Photographs that were taken in the middle of January 2012 of the condition of Melvin's eyes were admitted into evidence, without objection.
[¶11] Melvin testified further that he was certain that he was not intoxicated on the night in question and that although he might have smelled of alcohol, he was not slurring his words. Melvin acknowledged that he was uncooperative at the hospital and stated that he was in pain and was trying to get help, but the people at the hospital kept asking him different questions. Eventually, Melvin blacked out at the hospital, not because of the alcohol that he had drank earlier, but because of the medicine he was given to him to kill the pain. Melvin denied that he ever punched or hit defendant during the confrontation and stated that before he even reached defendant, defendant flipped the table over, and he was on his back. Melvin did not ask Corinthian, Kadijah, or Charolyn for help and did not yell for anyone else in the house to help him. According to Melvin, Corinthian did not try to break up the fight and Melvin never yelled at Corinthian to stay out of it.
[¶12] Will County Sheriff's Deputy Thomas Omiecinski testified for the State that on December 31, 2011, at about 10:06 p.m., he and Deputy Todd were dispatched to a call at the McKay Street residence. Omiecinski and Todd were in police uniform and were driving marked squad cars at the time. Upon their arrival at the residence a few moments later, the deputies were allowed to enter through the front door. There were multiple people inside the residence and it appeared that there was a New Year's Eve Party in progress. When the deputies asked those present what had happened and why the police were called to the residence, some of the people responded that nothing happened and others simply did not respond.
[¶13] As the deputies made their way to the kitchen area, Omiecinski heard a person moaning from the basement. Omiecinski started down toward the basement and saw Melvin trying to make his way up the stairs with his hands stretched out in front of him as if for guidance. Melvin asked Omiecinski to help him and told Omiecinski that he could not see. Omiecinski noticed that Melvin's eyes were red, bleeding, and swollen, and that there was blood pouring from Melvin's eyes down onto his cheeks. It appeared to Omiecinski that Melvin's eyes had sustained a major injury as they were protruding about a quarter inch from the sockets. Omiecinski helped Melvin into the kitchen, and Melvin told him what had happened. Omiecinski saw that Melvin needed immediate medical attention and asked for the paramedics to come into the residence right away. The paramedics took Melvin to the hospital.
[¶14] After Melvin left with the paramedics, the deputies tried to make contact with defendant by going to defendant's bedroom on the second floor. They deputies knocked on defendant's bedroom door and announced that they were police officers and that they needed to speak to defendant. Defendant did not answer the door
immediately. After several moments, defendant opened the door. Omiecinski asked defendant what had happened, and defendant responded with, " [n]othing, n***," and " s*** happened." Omiecinski did not notice any injuries on defendant and when Omiecinski asked defendant, defendant stated that he was not injured. Omiecinski and Todd eventually placed defendant under arrest. Because of defendant's large size, the deputies had to use two sets of handcuffs; one was not sufficient.
[¶15] As Omiecinski and Todd walked through the house, they asked some of the 10 or 15 other people who were present what had happened. Only one person was cooperative. Omiecinski saw that there was a remote control on the floor in the living room, which was near the kitchen. The plastic casing on the remote control had been smashed into several pieces and was lying on the floor. Upon being asked, a household member told Omiecinski that the remote was for the television in the living room.
[¶16] As a police officer, Omiecinski had been trained in alcohol detection for the purpose of determining if a person was intoxicated or had been drinking. Omiecinski did not notice any smell of alcohol on Melvin or any slurred speech. According to Omiecinski, Melvin was cooperative in answering questions and did not appear to be intoxicated in any way.
[¶17] Will County Sheriff's Deputy Richard Todd testified for the State and provided a similar account of what had occurred at the McKay Street residence that evening. Todd testified further that he went to the hospital after he left the scene and tried to talk to Melvin. By that time, Melvin had already received some treatment and his eyes were bandaged. Melvin appeared to be in a lot of pain and although he was trying to answer Todd's questions, his responses were inaudible and he was moaning when he was trying to speak. Todd did not, however, notice Melvin lose consciousness or black out at the hospital.
[¶18] Firefighter/paramedic Matt Bowles testified for the State that on December 31, 2011, he and his partner, Louis Helis, were dispatched to the McKay Street residence at about 10:07 p.m. They arrived at the residence about five minutes later. Upon arrival, after the scene was cleared by the sheriff's deputies, the paramedics went into the house into the kitchen area where the patient, Melvin, was located. As they walked to the kitchen area, the paramedics noticed that there were about 10 or 15 people in the living room of the house, near the kitchen, watching television.
[¶19] Melvin was sitting at the kitchen table facing the paramedics. He had heavy blood coming from both of his eyes. Melvin's left eye was protruding quite a bit and his right eye was very sunken into his skull. The paramedics checked to make sure that Melvin was alert, conscious, and breathing, and then started wound care. Melvin's head and eyes were wrapped in gauze to keep them sterile and to protect them. After getting Melvin's baseline vital readings, the paramedics put Melvin into the back of the ambulance for transport. As the paramedics were treating Melvin, Bowles did not notice any signs that Melvin was intoxicated. Bowles described Melvin's demeanor as calm and cooperative. When the paramedics got Melvin into the ambulance, they asked him if he had any pain anywhere else besides his eyes, and Melvin responded that he did not have pain elsewhere, but he did fall down the stairs. According to Bowles, Melvin remained conscious the entire time Bowles was with him and did not have any blackouts or losses of consciousness.
[¶20] Bowles's partner, firefighter/paramedic Louis Helis, provided similar testimony for the State regarding the paramedics' response to the call at the McKay Street residence that evening. Helis described the condition of Melvin's eyes at the scene as severely bleeding and very swollen. Like Bowles, Helis stated that he did not observe any signs that Melvin was intoxicated and did not report to the hospital staff that Melvin had been drinking or that Melvin appeared to be intoxicated.
[¶21] Dr. Kristin Baier testified for the State that she worked at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago as a resident physician in family medicine. Baier was involved in certain aspects of Melvin's treatment at the hospital, including the secondary diagnoses of tobacco and alcohol abuse. Baier saw Melvin at the hospital on January 2 and January 4, 2012. According to Baier, Melvin had a complete loss of vision in his left eye, was only able to detect light in his right eye, and had a fractured cheekbone. During the course of treatment, Baier asked Melvin if he had any alcohol on the day of the incident. Melvin was unable to specify how much alcohol he had drunk but told Baier that he usually did not drink more than one or two drinks at a time and that he was not drunk when the incident occurred. When asked how he sustained the injuries, Melvin told Baier that his nephew pushed him down a flight of stairs and tried to gouge his eyes out.
[¶22] Dr. Silvio Morales testified for the defense that he was the chairman and medical director of the emergency department at Silver Cross Hospital. Morales performed an examination of Melvin when Melvin was brought into the hospital's emergency department on New Year's Eve. According to Morales, Melvin's cooperation with the examination was limited due to Melvin being intoxicated. Morales's determination that Melvin was intoxicated was based upon his observations of Melvin--that Melvin smelled of alcohol, was unable to fully cooperate with the exam, and had slurred speech--and was not based upon the results of any type of laboratory value. Morales acknowledged during his testimony, however, that he had no direct memory of Melvin and that he could only go by what was contained in his report.
[¶23] Charolyn Holman testified for the defense that she was Nannetta Johnson's daughter and defendant's sister. During the evening of December 31, 2011, Charolyn was at the McKay Street residence. Charolyn had not been drinking, although she planned to have a drink at midnight to celebrate the new year. Present at the house along with Charolyn was defendant (Charolyn's brother); Melvin (Charolyn's uncle); Kadijah Holman (Charolyn's niece); Montiana (Charolyn's niece); Darzell (Charolyn's nephew); Dominique (Charolyn's step-nephew); Corinthians Baker (Charolyn's stepbrother); ...