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People v. Stafford

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

September 1, 2016

DAVID P. STAFFORD, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Woodford County, No. 02-CF-26; the Hon. John B. Huschen, Judge, presiding.


          Michael J. Pelletier, Jacqueline L. Bullard, and James Ryan Williams (argued), all of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Springfield, for Appeal appellant.

          Gregory A. Minger, State's Attorney, of Eureka (Patrick Delfino and Allison Paige Brooks (argued), both of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel), for the People.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Turner and Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 In August 2003, a jury found defendant, David P. Stafford, guilty of four counts of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (2) (West 2002)) and one count of first degree felony murder (residential burglary) (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3), 19-3(a) (West 2002)). The trial court sentenced defendant to natural life in prison (720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(6)(a), (b), (c) (West 2002)). On appeal, defendant argued the trial court abused its discretion when it sentenced him to natural life in prison, and this court affirmed the trial court's judgment. People v. Stafford, No. 4-03-1011 (Feb. 23, 2006) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

         ¶ 2 In June 2013, defendant filed a pro se postconviction petition alleging his life sentence was unconstitutional under the United States Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S., 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), because he was 17 years old when the crime was committed and his life sentence violated the eighth amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. U.S. Const., amend. VIII. The State moved to dismiss the petition because defendant received a discretionary life sentence, in contrast to the mandatory life sentence challenged in Miller. The trial court granted the State's motion, and this appeal followed.

         ¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 A. Trial

         ¶ 5 The evidence presented at trial showed on March 6, 2002, Cherie Gillson was murdered in the bedroom of her Eureka, Illinois, home. The victim had at least 45 discrete stab wounds in multiple locations, including her face, arms, legs, and stomach. A doctor testified, based on several of the wounds, "severe" force had been used. The victim's nine-year-old son was asleep in the basement at the time of the killing. The victim's son found his mother later in the morning and called for help. On March 7, 2002, the victim's neighbors informed the police they found a blue leather jacket, stained with blood and with dark hair caught in the zipper, in their yard. Defendant's father later identified the jacket as belonging to defendant.

         ¶ 6 On March 17, 2002, the police recorded defendant's confessional statement. Defendant, then 17 years old, claimed he went into the victim's home to steal videotapes. Defendant stated he knew the victim, as she was a school bus monitor, and she had previously let him borrow videotapes. He thought he heard a sound coming from one of the bedrooms. He grabbed a knife from the victim's kitchen in case he was discovered. Defendant opened the door to the victim's room and stabbed her in the stomach when she walked toward the door. The victim hit defendant, which enraged him, and he continued to stab her. Defendant lay down next to the victim as she died. Defendant stated he held her and said, "Good-bye bitch." After he determined the victim was deceased, he went into the kitchen to wash his hands and proceeded to steal videotapes from her entertainment center. Defendant later said he did not know what he would have done if the victim's son had walked into the room. After defendant's confessional statement, the police conducted a search of his bedroom. The police found two videotapes, which matched the tapes defendant said he had taken from the victim's home. Defendant's fingerprints also matched the latent prints found on the victim's remaining videos.

         ¶ 7 The jury found defendant guilty of four counts of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (a)(2) (West 2002)) (counts I, II, III, and IV) and one count of first degree felony murder (residential burglary) (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3), 19-3(a) (West 2002)) (count V) for the stabbing of Cherie Gillson.

         ¶ 8 B. Sentencing

         ¶ 9 On October 6, 2003, the trial court held a sentencing hearing. Defendant's father testified regarding defendant's childhood. Defendant's parents divorced when he was two years old. His father was given custody, and defendant seldom heard from his mother. Defendant had a number of behavioral issues. For example, he was caught playing with his penis on a school bus and took a knife from home onto the school bus. Defendant showed signs of aggression toward women and "ha[d] a problem with their authority." Prior to sentencing, defendant's father wrote a letter to the trial court, expressing his love for his son but also his fear defendant would hurt more people if he were ever released into society again.

         ¶ 10 The presentence investigation report (PSI) demonstrated defendant had a troubled history. Defendant's highest level of education was the tenth grade. In 1993, when defendant was eight years old, a teacher reported defendant had social and emotional problems: he liked to play he was stabbing people, and he said when he grew up, he wanted to be a murderer. In 1997, when defendant was 12 years old, a teacher noted defendant spoke with great bravado regarding how he attacked a peer and sent him to the hospital, cut an adult with a beer bottle, and threatened another adult with a gun, and he threatened a female student with a knife. Defendant's school records also show he was suspended from school for fighting and on a separate occasion, he was suspended for assaulting a student and threatening a bus driver.

         ¶ 11 From ages 12 to 17, defendant was placed in approximately 13 facilities and shelters in Iowa, which he claimed was due to "anger and voices in [his] head." In May 1997, defendant was court-ordered to a shelter for sexually abusing his two younger brothers, ages 8 and 10. While at the shelter, he had numerous sexual issues; for example, he was fixated on sexual subjects, accused a roommate of sexually abusing him, and complained to staff he masturbated to the point of soreness. In June 1997, defendant was court-ordered to inpatient evaluation due to a strange discussion with his guardian ad litem referencing Satan. Defendant was diagnosed with conduct disorder and parent-child problems. The staff observed he had an inflated self-esteem, bragged about sexual conquests, and bragged about his knowledge of gangs.

         ¶ 12 In July 1997, defendant was placed in a psychiatric medical institute for children, where he was hospitalized for two weeks due to a major episode of aggression. In its evaluation, the institute noted defendant was of above average intelligence and diagnosed him with major depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and conduct disorder (childhood onset type). He was consistently unable to comply with the rules, was caught in sexually inappropriate situations, was prone to stealing, and showed no remorse for sexually abusing his brothers. Defendant assaulted a female staff member, which ultimately led to his unsuccessful discharge.

         ¶ 13 In May 1998, he began a court-ordered perpetrators program. In October 1999, he was discharged, and it was the staff's opinion defendant would continue to commit sexual crimes against those whom he saw as weaker than him without close supervision. In February 2000, defendant was placed in another perpetrator program and was discharged after a month because the staff was unable to provide protection to the community and residents due to defendant's "violent fantasies." He was then ...

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