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23, 2006) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).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
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
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
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
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 ...