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People v. Minniefield

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

December 31, 2014

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
GREGORY MINNIEFIELD, Defendant-Appellant

Page 35

As Corrected.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 03 CR 1284. The Honorable Maura Slattery Boyle, Judge, presiding.

Affirmed.

SYLLABUS

The appellate court upheld the trial court's second-stage dismissal of defendant's pro se postconviction petition, as supplemented by defense counsel, filed following a jury's finding that he was guilty of first-degree murder and the sentence of 25 years plus a 25-year enhancement for personally discharging a firearm, since defendant's claims that he made a substantial showing that he acted in self-defense and was innocent and that his counsel was ineffective for failing to request an involuntary manslaughter instruction and for failing to investigate a call from occurrence witnesses were not persuasive.

For Appellant: Michael J. Pelletier, State Appellate Defender, Alan D. Goldberg, Deputy Defender, Yasaman Hannah Navai, Assistant Appellate Defender, Office kof the State Appellate Defender, First Judicial District, Chicago, IL.

For Appellee: Anita Alvarez, State's Attorney, County of Cook, Alan J. Spellberg, Michele Grimaldi Stein, Peter Maltese, Assistant State's Attorney, Chicago, IL.

JUSTICE GORDON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Palmer and Justice Reyes concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

GORDON, JUSTICE

Page 36

[¶1] Defendant Gregory Minniefield was found guilty after a jury trial of first-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years for murder, plus a 25-year enhancement for personally discharging a firearm, for a total of 50 years with the Illinois Department of Corrections.

[¶2] At his jury trial, defendant testified: that he walked with a gun at his side toward the victim's parked vehicle, that the victim said " Oh, s***!" and reached toward something on the floor, that defendant reached his gun inside the victim's vehicle and fired two shots in self-defense toward " whatever" the victim was reaching for, that the victim's vehicle moved forward, and that the driver's window frame hit defendant's gun, causing it to discharge multiple times accidentally. Thus, there was no dispute at trial that defendant was the shooter or that the shots from defendant's gun killed the victim. The only issues at trial concerned self-defense and accident and, at defense counsel's request, the jury received second-degree murder instructions and a self-defense instruction. However, the jury rejected these options

Page 37

and convicted defendant of first-degree murder.

[¶3] On direct appeal, defendant claimed that his counsel was ineffective for failing to request an involuntary manslaughter instruction because his testimony demonstrated that he acted recklessly when he shot the victim. The appellate court held that, since the record did not disclose whether counsel and defendant discussed this option, " the basis of defendant's ineffective assistance claim wholly relies on matters not of record," and " the claim must be raised in a collateral proceeding," such as a postconviction proceeding. People v. Minniefield, No. 1-05-2792, slip op. at 6, [published in table format at 372 Ill.App.3d 1097, 940 N.E.2d 306, 346 Ill.Dec. 306] (2007) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

[¶4] Defendant then filed a pro se postconviction petition in December 2007, alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel based on counsel's alleged failure both to request an involuntary manslaughter jury instruction and to investigate witnesses. The trial court summarily dismissed the petition on February 6, 2008, finding his claims frivolous and patently without merit. On May 28, 2010, this court reversed the trial court's summary dismissal holding that, on the record before it, defendant's " allegation that counsel failed to investigate or present witnesses has an arguable basis in law and fact." People v. Minniefield, No. 1-08-0649, at 4, [published in table format at 398 Ill.App.3d 1102, 988 N.E.2d 1124, 370 Ill.Dec. 768] (2010) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23) (remanding the case for second-stage proceedings). After remand and appointment of counsel, counsel filed a supplemental petition, which the trial court dismissed on January 15, 2013.

[¶5] It is this January 15, 2013, second-stage dismissal which is the subject of the current appeal. On this appeal, defendant argues: (1) that he has made a substantial showing that he acted in self-defense and thus is actually innocent; and (2) that his counsel was ineffective (a) for failing to ask for an involuntary manslaughter jury instruction and (b) for failing to investigate or call occurrence witnesses. At the second-stage proceeding which we are reviewing, the State conceded that the two affidavits which defendant submitted in support of his actual innocence claim are newly discovered. Defendant requests this court to remand for a third-stage evidentiary hearing.

[¶6] For the following reasons, we affirm.

[¶7] BACKGROUND

[¶8] I. The Evidence at Trial

[¶9] A. The Events

[¶10] On direct appeal, we summarized the evidence at trial as follows:

" The trial evidence demonstrated that, on December 17, 2002, defendant fatally shot the victim, Theopolis[1] Ransberry. Immediately prior, defendant was driving a car with two passengers, his girlfriend and cousin. The victim was simultaneously driving his car with three passengers. Although defendant admitted that he shot the victim, the trial testimony conflicted regarding the exact chain of events leading to the victim's death. The State's witnesses, including the victim's passengers and defendant's cousin, testified that defendant instigated the exchange with the victim by shooting at the victim's car. Then, after the victim subsequently pulled his car

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over, defendant approached on foot and shot the victim several more times absent provocation. Contrarily defendant testified that he did not shoot the victim until, after approaching the victim's car to merely talk, he thought the victim was reaching for a gun, and thus responsively shot the victim's hand twice. Then because the victim began to drive away while defendant's hand remained partially inside the car, defendant's hand hit the window causing the handgun to fire several more times." Minniefield, No. 1-05-2792, at 2.

[¶11] B. Defendant's Pretrial Confession

[¶12] We further described defendant's pretrial confession as follows:

" At trial, Assistant State's Attorney (ASA) John Brady testified that defendant agreed to have his statement videotaped, and it was published to the jury over defense counsel's objections. In the statement, defendant admitted that he chased the victim's car on the day in question because they were engaged in an ongoing feud over money. Defendant further admitted that, while chasing the victim's car, he fired two gunshots into the air. Defendant additionally admitted that he approached the victim's car, grabbed the chain around his neck and demanded money that the victim owed him. The victim moved and defendant fired his handgun toward the victim's leg. Then, while defendant's handgun remained inside the car, the car moved approximately two feet causing defendant to shoot the victim four additional times. Defendant admitted that no one was armed in the victim's car. Defendant knew that bullets hit both the victim and Roshawn Adams, one of the passengers; however, he fled the scene and disposed of his handgun. Defendant stated that he merely intended to scare the victim, not to hurt him." Minniefield, No. 1-05-2792, slip op. at 2.

[¶13] C. Defendant's Testimony at Trial

[¶14] We described defendant's trial testimony as follows:

" Defendant testified that, in April 2002, he and the victim had a conversation during which the victim denied involvement in an incident with defendant's girlfriend. He further testified that, early in the afternoon on the day in question, defendant was driving with his two-year[-]old son when the victim opened fire at defendant's car. Defendant found a police officer in the area and reported the incident; however, the officer was forced to leave on an emergency call. At some point during the day, defendant purchased a loaded handgun for protection.
Later in the evening, defendant was driving with his girlfriend, Nicole Saunders, and his cousin, Erica Simmons, when he recognized the victim's car pass him and stop. Defendant approached the victim's car on foot, armed with his handgun, to talk to him about a misunderstanding involving Sanders. Defendant, however, saw the victim reach for what he thought was a handgun, and as a result, shot inside the car in an attempt to shoot whatever the victim was trying to retrieve. After firing two shots, the victim began to drive away. Defendant's hand, however, was still inside the car. As a result, the window frame hit defendant's hand causing the gun to fire several more times. Defendant testified that he did not intend to fire the handgun and he did not think that he shot anyone.
Defendant further maintained that he was mistreated while in police custody, and despite expressly invoking his rights

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to an attorney and to remain silent, his Miranda rights were violated.[2] Defendant claimed that he told Detective Ron Lewis and Timothy Nolan that the victim threatened him and that he shot the victim because he thought the victim was reaching for a weapon. Defendant, however, admitted that he did not make the same claims in his videotaped statement.
On cross-examination, defendant stated that he thought the victim initially shot at his car because the victim mistakenly thought that defendant was involved in a prior attack on the victim, which was actually instigated by defendant's girlfriend. He admitted, however, that during the incident the victim did not make any threats." Minniefield, No. 1-05-2792, slip op. at 2-4.

[¶15] D. The State's Rebuttal Evidence

[¶16] We described the State's rebuttal case as follows:

" In rebuttal, Detective Lewis testified that defendant did not report that the victim shot at him while he was driving his son or that he thought the victim was reaching for a handgun. On cross-examination, however, Lewis admitted that defendant told him that the victim had threatened defendant. Also, in rebuttal, Detective Nolan reiterated that defendant did not report that the victim shot at him. On cross-examination, however, Nolan admitted that defendant requested that he only shot inside the victim's car because the victim was reaching for something." Minniefield, No. 1-05-2792, slip op. at 4.

[¶17] E. Jury Instructions

[¶18] At the jury instruction conference, defense counsel requested instructions on both second-degree murder and self-defense, which the trial court gave over the State's objection.

[¶19] The jurors were instructed that, in order to sustain the charge of first-degree murder, the State had the burden of proving that " the defendant was not justified in using the force he used."

[¶20] As to when force is justified, the jurors were instructed:

" A person is justified in the use of force when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself against the imminent use of unlawful force.
However, a person is justified in the use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself."

[¶21] With respect to second-degree murder, the jury was instructed:

" You may not consider whether the defendant is guilty of the lesser offense of second degree murder until and unless you have first determined that the State has proved beyond a reasonable doubt each of the previously stated propositions.
The defendant has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a mitigating factor is present so that he is guilty of the lesser offense of second degree murder instead of first degree murder. By this I mean that you must be persuaded, considering all the ...

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