Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. 08 CR 19769 . The Honorable Timothy Joseph Joyce, Judge, presiding..
Defendant's convictions and sentences for the attempted first degree murder of his former girlfriend, the first degree murder of her current boyfriend and home invasion were upheld over his contentions that his trial counsel was ineffective, that evidence of other crimes was improperly admitted, that the sentence to natural life imprisonment was an abuse of discretion and that he was not informed of the 15-year firearm enhancement to the sentence for attempted first degree murder, since defendant could not establish prejudice based on his counsel's alleged ineffectiveness in view of the overwhelming evidence of defendant's guilt, evidence of defendant's recent assaults on his former girlfriend was properly admitted, the sentence to natural life imprisonment fell within the statutory guidelines, and the indictment gave defendant adequate notice of the firearm enhancement of the first degree murder sentence; furthermore, the mittimus for the attempted first degree murder conviction was directed to be corrected to Class X felony.
For PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEE: John E. Nowak, Joan F. Frazier, Cook County State's Attorney, Chicago, IL.
For DEFENDANT-APPELLANT: Thomas C. Brandstrader, Chicago, IL; Levi S. Harris, Office of the State Appellate Defender, Chicago, IL.
JUSTICE HYMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Pucinski and Justice Mason concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] In the early morning of September 25, 2008, defendant Christopher Jackson dislodged a bedroom air conditioner, awakening Sulee Gonzalez, his former girlfriend and the mother of his daughter, and her current boyfriend, Robert White. Entering the room, Jackson shot the boyfriend in the head, killing him, and then went on to repeatedly stab Gonzalez. The trial court convicted Jackson of the first degree murder of White, the attempted first degree murder of Gonzalez, and home invasion. Jackson was sentenced to natural life imprisonment for first degree murder, 21 years for attempted first degree murder, and 26 years for home invasion.
[¶2] Jackson raises four issues on appeal: (i) ineffective assistance of counsel for his trial attorney's alleged failure to investigate his mental health or the location of blood spatters at the crime scene; (ii) the admission of other crimes evidence as inflammatory, nonprobative, and prejudicial; (iii) the abuse of discretion in sentencing him to a term of natural life imprisonment, as both excessive and lacking in adequate consideration of the mitigating factors; and (iv) the State failed to inform Jackson of the 15-year firearm enhancement to the attempted first degree murder sentence, rendering the enhancement void.
[¶3] We affirm Jackson's conviction and sentence. First, the omission of the DNA evidence constituted a strategic trial decision made by Jackson's counsel and does not support a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Additionally, Jackson cannot to show prejudice. Next, the other crimes evidence was proximate in time as well as factually similar to the charged conduct, and not unduly prejudicial under the circumstances. As for sentencing, the trial court properly considered the mitigating evidence, and sentenced Jackson within the statutory mandated guidelines. Finally, Jackson received pretrial notice of the sentencing enhancement because the indictment for first degree murder included the alleged fact used as a basis for the 15-year enhancement, which suffices under the statute.
[¶5] Christopher Jackson and Sulee Gonzalez maintained an on-again/off-again relationship from 1999 to July 2008. In 2007, Jackson and Gonzalez lived together with their daughter at Gonzalez's mother's house, along with other family members. On February 12, 2007, Jackson came home drunk and accused Gonzalez of breaking his windows. Jackson threw items to the ground and struck her. When Jackson packed up his belongings to leave, Gonzalez attempted to remove Jackson's house keys from his keychain. Realizing this, Jackson punched her in the face. Gonzalez reported the incident to the police but did not pursue it further. Jackson and Gonzalez separated in June 2008.
[¶6] On August 15, 2008, Gonzalez was living in a ground floor apartment with her daughter, her boyfriend, Robert White, and her brother Robert Gonzalez (Robert G.). At about 12:30 a.m., Gonzalez and White were awakened by loud banging on the back door, where Jackson was shouting Gonzalez's name. Jackson pushed aside a panel of an air conditioning unit located near the back porch and peered into the apartment. Gonzalez instructed her brother to tell Jackson she was not home. Jackson retreated; however, a half hour later he returned and rammed his truck into Gonzalez's parked car. Gonzalez reported the incident to the police and obtained an order of protection. After
that, Gonzalez maintained contact with Jackson solely by phone and email.
[¶7] State's Case
[¶8] On September 25, 2008, White and Gonzalez were sleeping in their bedroom. Robert G. and a friend were in another room. Around 1 a.m., the sound of the air conditioner crashing onto the floor of their room woke White and Gonzalez. White went to the window, and in seconds, Gonzalez heard gunshots from outside. Gonzalez pulled the covers over her head and screamed. As she pulled back the covers, Jackson turned on the light. She saw Jackson standing at the end of her bed, and, in an instant, Jackson jumped on the bed, choked Gonzalez with one hand, and drew his gun to her head with the other. Jackson told Gonzalez that if he could not have her, no one could, and he pulled the trigger. The gun misfired. Gonzalez attempted to fight Jackson off as he choked her with both hands.
[¶9] Robert G. and a friend entered the room and saw Jackson with a gun in his hand kneeling on top of Gonzalez. Jackson pointed the gun at the two men and they ran into the hallway. Jackson followed. Gonzalez stayed in the bedroom and kneeled by White, who was unresponsive. Jackson returned to the bedroom, this time wielding a knife, and began to repeatedly stab Gonzalez, while saying, " die, bitch, die."
[¶10] Meanwhile, Robert G. and his friend ran across the street to the home of Gonzalez's aunt, Pilar Santillanes, and told her what happened. Santillanes entered the apartment, grabbed a skillet from the kitchen, entered the bedroom, and, while Jackson continued to stab Gonzalez, Santillanes beat Jackson about the head with the skillet. After receiving several blows from the skillet, Jackson got on his knees, proclaimed he would kill himself and plunged the knife into his chest. Santillanes told Jackson to shut up and again hit him with the skillet. Jackson stabbed Gonzalez once more in the stomach and left the knife embedded there. Santillanes removed the knife from Gonzalez and tossed it toward the bedroom doorway.
[¶11] While Santillanes hit Jackson with the skillet, Robert G. and another friend entered the bedroom and tried to stop the attack on Gonzalez. The friend removed her shirt, used it to pick up the bloody knife from the doorway, and tried to stab Jackson. The police arrived and Gonzalez and Jackson were taken to a hospital.
[¶12] In the kitchen, the police recovered a handgun from atop the stove, with five spent cartridges and one empty cylinder. In the bedroom, there was a skillet and air conditioner on the floor, a bloody knife in the doorway, and four holes in the wall over the bed, as well as a metal fragment in the baseboard.
[¶13] Blood found on the knife blade revealed a major human female DNA profile matching Gonzalez's DNA profile, and a minor partial DNA profile from which Jackson could not be excluded. Blood from the knife handle revealed a major human female DNA profile matching Gonzalez's DNA profile and a minor DNA profile that matched Jackson, but not White.
[¶14] The chief medical examiner at the Cook County medical examiner's office testified that White died from two gunshot wounds to the back of his head. There was no evidence of close range firing. A bullet and two bullet fragments were recovered from the body. A forensic scientist testified that the two bullets were fired from the handgun recovered from Gonzalez's apartment. Gunshot residue tests performed on ...