Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 05-CF-2092. Honorable Brian Babka, Judge, presiding.
For Appellant: Michael J. Pelletier, State Appellate Defender, Karen Munoz, Jacqueline L. Bullard, Deputy Defenders, John M. McCarthy, Assistant Appellate Defender, Office of the State Appellate Defender, Fourth Judicial District, Springfield, IL.
For Appellee: Hon. Brendan F. Kelly, State's Attorney, St. Clair County, Belleville, IL; Patrick Delfino, Director, Stephen E. Norris, Deputy Director, Rebecca E. McCormick, Staff Attorney, Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor, Mt. Vernon, IL.
JUSTICE GOLDENHERSH delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Welch and Stewart concurred in the judgment and opinion. Honorable Thomas M. Welch, J., and Honorable Bruce D. Stewart, J., Concur.
Richard P. Goldenhersh,
[¶1] This direct appeal is taken from the trial court's final judgment of conviction of defendant, Lee Crutchfield, in a criminal case in which defendant was sentenced to natural life in prison after a jury trial found him guilty of first-degree murder. Defendant raises two issues on appeal. Defendant first alleges the trial court erred when it failed to appoint counsel to investigate his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The second issue defendant raises alleges resentencing is required because the mandatory life sentence provision pursuant to section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) of the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) (West 2010)) that the trial judge applied has been struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court.
[¶2] For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court concerning defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claims and remand to the trial court with directions to sentence defendant without applying the mandatory life sentence provision in section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) of the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) (West 2010)).
[¶4] Defendant, Lee Crutchfield, was sentenced to natural life in prison on August 21, 2012, after a jury trial found him guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Ryon Smith. The relevant facts to this appeal are as follows.
[¶5] On December 25, 2005, at approximately 6:43 p.m., the body of 6-year-old Ryon Smith (victim) was found by authorities and medical responders in the house in which he had resided with his mother Starr Lohman, his 22-month-old brother, and defendant since October 2005. Defendant was Lohman's 32-year-old boyfriend at the time.
[¶6] Officer Larry Flinn responded to a call that night regarding an unresponsive child at 1311 Upper Cahokia Road. Flinn arrived at the residence around the same time as the Medstar Ambulance. Lohman directed Flinn to the bedroom where the victim was lying unresponsive on the floor. Flinn testified in court that the victim's body looked badly beaten and bruised. The victim's body had lacerations and blood on his face, and had bruises on his head, face, chest, arms, hands, and abdomen.
[¶7] Benjamin Koch, an Illinois State Police homicide investigator, was called to the residence at 7:30 p.m. Koch took several photographs of the bedroom where the victim's body lay on the floor and collected other evidence, including a wooden board near the bedroom's back closet area that appeared to be used to keep the closet door closed. There was a stained comforter on the floor inside the closet. Koch also noted that the thermostat at the residence was set to 90 degrees.
[¶8] Dr. Raj Nanduri conducted the autopsy of the victim on December 26, 2005. The victim was six years old, weighed 34 pounds, and was 45 inches tall. The body was already showing signs of decomposition, the victim's torso was distended, and the body had a uniform green color to it. Rigor mortis had passed. Dr. Nanduri noted that the victim suffered from several blunt force trauma injuries and bruising covered both sides of the victim's face. The internal portion of the autopsy confirmed mesenteric injuries, and the victim's acute bleeding was determined to have occurred less than two hours prior to his death. Dr. Nanduri concluded with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that the victim died as a result of a homicide
due to blunt force trauma to the abdomen.
[¶9] Koch attended the autopsy of the victim and collected DNA, fingerprints, hair, and clothing. Koch also took pictures of defendant's hands, which showed swelling in the right hand and an abrasion with some blood near a nail on the left hand. Pictures of Lohman's hands did not show any injuries.
[¶10] Evidence at trial established the following altercation took place between defendant and the victim. Only a brief summary of the altercation is necessary for the purpose of this appeal. The victim, who was very small at 34 pounds and underweight for a six-year-old, was beaten by defendant at the residence where the two resided on the morning of December 24, 2005, until he was lying unresponsive on the floor.
[¶11] On that morning, the victim had urinated in his bedroom's closet and defendant was yelling at him about it. The victim bit down on defendant's finger during the altercation, and defendant responded by hitting the victim at least 5 to 10 times in an attempt to allegedly get his finger released from the victim's mouth. Defendant claimed the victim had called him the " N" word in addition to biting down on his finger, to which defendant responded by hitting the victim in his chest area.
[¶12] Lohman, the victim's mother, placed the victim on his bed after the beating. The victim did not move or talk again despite Lohman shaking his body. Lohman testified that she believed the victim was still breathing, and did not call for medical assistance until approximately 36 hours after the beating.
[¶13] Lohman pled guilty to aggravated battery of a child, but it was stipulated she never struck the victim. Lohman testified that she did not beat the victim, but did fail to protect him.
[¶14] During defendant's trial, the defense introduced a forensic pathologist who testified that the victim's death was the result of seizures caused by epilepsy rather than defendant's beating of the victim. The State rebutted the defense's claim by introducing a different forensic pathologist who testified he found no credible evidence that the victim had epilepsy. After hearing all the evidence, the jury convicted defendant of first-degree murder.
[¶15] Defendant's sentencing began with the trial court inquiring into defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant complained that he asked counsel to impeach Lohman's testimony concerning a prior statement made to police during the trial, but counsel responded that " she looked bad enough." Defendant also complained that counsel failed to impeach Lohman's testimony indicating she did not perform CPR by not presenting the 9-1-1 tape, which defendant alleged would suggest that she did perform CPR and explain the tear to the victim's mesentery. Defendant alleged his counsel told him he could not find the tape. Lastly defendant claimed he had numerous witnesses available to testify on his behalf, but none of these witnesses were presented in court or contacted by counsel.
[¶16] The trial court denied defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, ruling that it observed trial counsel's performance and believed it was excellent. The trial court then proceeded with the sentencing hearing. After reviewing evidence and hearing the arguments of counsel, the trial court determined that section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) of the Unified Code of Corrections required a mandatory natural life sentence without the possibility of parole.
[¶17] Defense counsel then filed a motion to reconsider the sentence, arguing the Illinois Supreme Court in People v. Wooters, 188 Ill.2d 500, 722 N.E.2d 1102, 243 Ill.Dec. 33 (1999), found that the enactment of section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) was unconstitutional and, relying on People v. Quevedo, 403 Ill.App.3d 282, 932 N.E.2d 642, 342 Ill.Dec. 515 (2010), the statute had never been reenacted. After hearing argument from both parties, the trial court determined that Quevedo did not apply and affirmed that the statute required a natural life sentence without the possibility of parole. Defendant now appeals his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and motion to reconsider the sentence.
[¶19] Defendant first alleges the trial court erred when it failed to appoint counsel to investigate his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The State contends the trial court made a proper inquiry of defendant personally in court, and the trial court's determination that defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel lacked merit and pertained to trial strategy is not manifestly erroneous. We agree with the State.
[¶20] A trial court's decision to not appoint new counsel for a defendant based on a judgment that the ineffective assistance claim is spurious shall not be disturbed on appeal unless the decision is manifestly erroneous. People v. McCarter, 385 Ill.App.3d 919, 941, 897 N.E.2d 265, 285, 325 Ill.Dec. 17 (2008) (citing People v. Woodson, 220 Ill.App.3d 865, 877, 581 N.E.2d 320, 329, 163 Ill.Dec. 369 (1991)).
[¶21] Regarding a defendant's pro se posttrial motion challenging the competence of his attorney at trial, the following rule has been developed from the Illinois Supreme Court's decision in People v. Krankel, 102 Ill.2d 181, 464 N.E.2d 1045, 80 Ill.Dec. 62 (1984). In Krankel, the defendant's trial counsel failed to contact an alibi witness or present an alibi defense at trial, and the defendant raised a pro se posttrial challenge to his attorney's competence at trial. The trial court refused to appoint new counsel to represent the defendant on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim, but allowed the defendant to argue his motion.
[¶22] Defendant appealed, and the appellate court held that the trial court erred in denying the defendant's pro se motion for a new trial based on the fact that his counsel failed to contact or present an alibi witness. People v. Krankel, 113 Ill.App.3d 992, 447 N.E.2d 1379, 69 Ill.Dec. 692 (1983). State then filed a petition for leave to appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court, which was granted.
[¶23] In their briefs, both parties agreed that the trial court should have appointed new counsel to represent the defendant at the posttrial hearing concerning his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. The Illinois Supreme Court concluded that the failure to appoint new counsel to argue a defendant's pro se posttrial motion alleging ineffective assistance of counsel was error and remanded the cause for a new hearing on the claim.
[¶24] The Illinois Supreme Court has since expanded the court's finding in Krankel and has determined that new counsel is not automatically required in every case in which a defendant presents a pro se posttrial motion alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. People v. Moore, 207 Ill.2d 68, 77, 797 N.E.2d 631, 637, 278 Ill.Dec. 36 (2003). Rather, the trial court must first examine the factual basis of the defendant's claim before determining whether new counsel should be appointed. Moore, 207 Ill.2d at 77-78, 797 N.E.2d at 637.
[¶25] The trial court is not required to appoint new counsel and may deny the defendant's pro se motion if it determines the claim lacks merit or pertains only to matters of trial strategy. Moore, 207 Ill.2d at 78, 797 N.E.2d at 637. However, new counsel should be appointed if the defendant's allegations show possible neglect of the case, in which case the newly appointed counsel represents the defendant at the hearing on the ...