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People v. Sandifer

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

October 27, 2016

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
HENRY SANDIFER, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 09 CR 1581501 The Honorable Angela M. Petrone, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Ellis and Justice McBride concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          BURKE, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 A jury convicted defendant, Henry Sandifer, of the murder of the victim, L.M, but acquitted him of the charges of sexual assault of the victim. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced defendant to 60 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. Defendant contends on appeal that the trial court erred by (1) interpreting the Illinois rape shield statute to bar testimony regarding the victim's past sexual conduct, (2) admitting the testimony of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) match probabilities, (3) allowing the State to present an argument which inflamed the passions of the jury, (4) allowing evidence which referenced defendant's profile being in the state DNA database, and (5) allowing cumulative errors which denied defendant due process. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation worker Sandra Jones testified that on October 14, 2008, as she unloaded a garbage cart in an alley in the area of 11026 South Normal, she saw a body come out of the garbage cart. The naked body was wrapped in a blanket secured with suspenders around the waist and knees. Darlene Page, the victim's sister, later identified the body at the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office. Page testified that she last saw her sister on the evening of October 10, 2008.

         ¶ 4 On the evening of October 11, 2008, Maria Cintron, defendant's former girlfriend, was with the victim at the home of Larry Mays at 10813 South Wallace. Cintron and the victim smoked crack cocaine with Larry and his brother, Michael Mays. Cintron testified that the victim ran out of money, wanted more drugs, and begged Larry for more drugs. Cintron had previously told detectives that after Larry gave the victim four or five bags of crack, Larry and the victim went into Larry's mother's bedroom and closed the door. When the victim came out of the bedroom, the victim begged for more crack. Larry and Michael refused to give the victim any more drugs. When the victim began making a scene, Michael punched her in the face. The victim fell to the ground. Michael then picked her up by the neck, dragged her outside and pushed her down the stairs. Cintron helped her up from the ground. The victim stood up and was able to walk. Both Cintron and the victim left, walking in opposite directions.

         ¶ 5 Five years prior, in 2003, Cintron lived with the defendant at 11036 South Normal, a few doors down from where the streets and sanitation worker found the victim's body. In 2008, she and defendant were still involved in a sexual relationship. The house on Normal where they used to live was vacant and under repair. They would climb in a back window to access the house to sleep and have sex there.

         ¶ 6 Detective Tim Murphy interviewed Cintron and learned about what transpired on the evening of October 11, 2008. He then interviewed Larry and another frequent guest of Mays, Jeffery Miles. Both gave a DNA sample to Detective Murphy.

         ¶ 7 Dr. Valerie Arangelovich from the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office performed the autopsy of the victim's body. Dr. Arangelovich believed that the victim had been dead for at least 36 hours at the time the body was found, putting the date of her death on approximately October 12, 2008. The X-rays revealed no fractures. She determined the cause of death to be strangulation, most likely by hand. The toxicology report revealed that the victim had a blood alcohol level of .184, well above the legal limit of .08. Tests showed the presence of cocaine. Dr. Arangelovich estimated that her death occurred 30 to 60 minutes after she ingested the cocaine. She did not see evidence in the body which would indicate chronic cocaine use.

         ¶ 8 Meredith Misker, a forensic scientist for the Illinois State Police Crime Lab, testified that a male DNA sample was found in the victim's vagina, anus, and under her right hand fingernail clippings. All three of these male DNA evidentiary samples came from the same individual. The Defendant could not be eliminated as the source. Based on her DNA analysis, Misker found that the defendant's DNA was present on the suspenders found with the victim's body. Defendant's DNA profile matched the profile from the victim's vaginal swab. The frequency of a random person matching the profile was 1 in 340 trillion black, 1 in 15 quadrillion white, or 1 in 9.2 quadrillion "Hispanic" unrelated individuals.

         ¶ 9 On April 22, 2009, Detective Murphy learned from the Illinois State Police that defendant's DNA was in the state's database. He interviewed defendant on July 20, 2009. The jury watched a redacted video of the interview. Defendant denied repeatedly that he knew the victim, and he denied that he had ever met her or that he recognized her photo. He repeatedly denied that he had sex with the victim. He could not explain the presence of his DNA on her body.

         ¶ 10 Detective Murphy learned during the course of the investigation that defendant lived at 11036 South Normal and that the victim's body was recovered in the alley at 11026 South Normal. The parties stipulated that in October 2008, around the time of the murder, defendant gave a police officer his address as 11036 South Normal.

         ¶ 11 The jury convicted defendant of first degree murder but acquitted him of criminal sexual assault. This appeal followed.

         ¶ 12 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 13 On appeal, defendant argues the trial court erred by (1) interpreting the rape shield statute to bar testimony regarding the victim's past sexual conduct, (2) admitting the testimony of DNA match probabilities, (3) allowing the State to present an argument which inflamed the passions of the jury, (4) allowing evidence which referenced defendant's profile being in the state DNA database, and (5) allowing cumulative errors which denied defendant due process. We address defendant's arguments in turn.

         ¶ 14 A. Rape Shield Statute Evidence

         ¶ 15 In his first claim on appeal, defendant challenges the trial court's rulings with respect to two pieces of evidence relating to the victim's prior sexual activity under the Illinois rape shield statute, section 115-7 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ILCS 5/115-7 (West 2012)).

         ¶ 16 Initially, defendant contends that the rape shield statute is inapplicable here because it does not apply when the victim is deceased. Without citation to any authority, he argues that the statute is ambiguous in that it does not state that it applies equally to both living and deceased victims and should therefore not apply where the victim of a sexual assault has also been murdered. He argues that barring evidence of a deceased victim's sexual conduct is inconsistent with the legislature purpose of the statute, i.e., prevention of harassment and victimization of a rape victim.

         ¶ 17 However, defendant did not raise this basis for admissibility in the trial court. Accordingly, he has forfeited this argument on appeal. People v. Enoch, 122 Ill.2d 176, 186 (1988) (to preserve an issue for review, defendant must raise the issue in the trial court and include it in a posttrial motion). Nevertheless, "forfeiture is not an absolute bar to our review. Instead, forfeiture presents limitations on the parties, not reviewing courts." People v. Scott, 401 Ill.App.3d 585, 599 (2010). "Furthermore, Supreme Court Rule 615(a), which codifies the plain-error doctrine, provides an exception affording review for those issues otherwise subject to procedural default." Id. As our supreme court explained in People v. Piatkowski, 225 Ill.2d 551, 565 (2007), plain-error review allows consideration of unpreserved error when (1) a clear, obvious error occurred and the evidence was closely balanced, or (2) regardless of the closeness of the evidence, a clear, obvious error occurred which was so serious that it affected the fairness of the trial and challenged the integrity of the judicial process. The defendant bears the burden of establishing plain error. Scott, 401 Ill.App.3d at 599-600. We must necessarily first determine whether an error occurred, and we "therefore, consider the substance of each claim of error." Id. at 600.

         ¶ 18 Defendant's argument requires us to first address the statutory construction of the rape shield law. We review questions of statutory construction de novo. In re Detention of Stanbridge, 2012 IL 112337, ¶ 70. "The primary goal of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature." Id. We construe the statute as a whole and give words their plain and ordinary meaning, and avoid rendering any language meaningless or superfluous. Id. We consider portions of the statute in light of other relevant provisions, and we presume "the legislature did not intend the statute to have absurd, inconvenient, or unjust consequences." Id. We may also consider "the reason and necessity for the law, the evils sought to be remedied and the purpose to be achieved." Id.

         ¶ 19 The Illinois' rape shield statute provides in pertinent part:

"§ 115.7. a. In prosecutions for *** aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual abuse, criminal sexual abuse, or criminal transmission of HIV *** the prior sexual activity or the reputation of the alleged victim *** is inadmissible except (1) as evidence concerning the past sexual conduct of the alleged victim *** with the accused when this evidence is offered by the accused upon the issue of whether the alleged victim *** consented to the sexual conduct with respect to which the offense is alleged; or (2) when constitutionally required to be admitted.
b. No evidence admissible under this Section shall be introduced unless ruled admissible by the trial judge after an offer of proof has been made at a hearing to be held in camera in order to determine whether the defense has evidence to impeach the witness in the event that prior sexual activity with the defendant is denied. Such offer of proof shall include reasonably specific information as to the date, time and place of the past sexual conduct between the alleged victim *** and the defendant. Unless the court finds that reasonably specific information as to date, time or place, or some combination thereof, has been offered as to prior sexual activity with the defendant, counsel for the defendant shall be ordered to refrain from inquiring into prior sexual activity between the alleged victim *** and the defendant. The court shall not admit evidence under this Section unless it determines at the hearing that the evidence is relevant and the probative value of the evidence outweighs the danger of unfair prejudice. The evidence shall be admissible at trial to the extent an order made by the court specifies the evidence that may be admitted and areas with respect to which the alleged victim *** may be examined or cross examined." 725 ILCS 5/115-7 (West 2012).

         ¶ 20 Accordingly, the Illinois rape shield law "absolutely bars evidence of the alleged victim's prior sexual activity or reputation, subject to two exceptions: (1) evidence of past sexual activities with the accused, offered as evidence of consent; and (2) where the admission of such evidence is constitutionally required." People v. Santos, 211 Ill.2d 395, 401-02 (2004). In the present case, the second exception is at issue.

         ¶ 21 Under defendant's proposed interpretation, as long as the victim is dead, all prior sexual conduct of the victim would not be subject to the rape shield statute's prohibitions. It is true that, as defendant argues, one of the legislature's purposes in enacting the rape shield statute was to "prevent the defendant from harassing and humiliating the complaining witness with evidence of either her reputation for chastity or specific acts of sexual conduct with persons other than [the] defendant." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) People v. Johnson, 2014 IL App (2d) 121004, ¶ 42 (quoting People v. Summers, 353 Ill.App.3d 367, 373 (2004)).

         ¶ 22 If this were the singular purpose of the statute, defendant would be correct that if the victim is dead, the purpose of the statute would not be furthered by applying it to deceased victims. However, another well-recognized purpose of the rape shield statute is to prevent the admission of evidence which is not relevant to the issue at hand, namely, whether or not the defendant, at the specific date ...


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