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People v. Ybarra

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

November 3, 2016

MARTIN YBARRA, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 09 CR 5916 Honorable Steven J. Goebel, Judge Presiding.

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


          McBRIDE, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Following a May 2014 jury trial, defendant Martin Ybarra was found guilty of three counts of first degree murder in the February 2009 shooting deaths of 17-year-old Kendrick Pitts, 13-year-old Johnny Edwards, and 15-year-old Raheem Washington. The trial court subsequently sentenced defendant to a mandatory term of natural life in prison. Defendant appeals, arguing that the imposition of a mandatory natural life sentences is unconstitutional as applied to him under the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art.1, § 11) because the trial court lacked discretion to consider mitigating evidence.

         ¶ 2 Because defendant has raised a single sentencing claim, we shall discuss the evidence presented at trial as necessary to understand the facts of the case. In February 2009, defendant was arrested and subsequently charged with the first degree murders of Kendrick Pitts, Raheem Washington, and Johnny Edwards.

         ¶ 3 In February 2009, there was an ongoing dispute between rival gangs, the Latin Kings and the Black P Stones on Chicago's south side. Dominique Atkins testified that in February 2009, he was a member of the Black P Stones, but had previously switched allegiance between the Latin Kings and the Black P Stones. Atkins stated that he previously dated defendant's sister Veronica Ybarra and was familiar with defendant. On February 20, 2009, Atkins received a call from Carnell Pitts, a fellow Black P Stone, asking Atkins to meet Carnell's younger brother Kendrick Pitts at school and walk him home from Bowen High School. Bowen High School is located near East 89th Street and South Muskegon Avenue in Chicago.

         ¶ 4 While Atkins was waiting for school to end, he observed a fight start between members of the Latin Kings and Black P Stones. He saw a small dark colored car pull up to the school and members of the Latin Kings yelled gang slogans. Atkins joined the fight and briefly fought a rival Latin King. The fight was broken up by the Bowen safety officer. Atkins then started to walk Pitts home. They were walking north on South Exchange Avenue toward East 87th Street when Atkins observed the same dark colored car stop in the middle of the street.

         ¶ 5 Atkins testified that he thought there was going to be another fight so he took off his jacket and walked into the street. He stated that a Latin King exited the vehicle and the two postured as though there would be a fight, but no fight occurred. Atkins then walked away. As he was bent over to pick up his jacket, Atkins testified that he heard someone say to look up. Atkins heard gunshots and saw defendant 25 feet away. Atkins stated that defendant was wearing a red jacket and holding a large rifle. Atkins said defendant fired the rifle at him. Atkins then ran toward the corner of 87th Street and Exchange Avenue and told Pitts to follow him. Atkins ran westbound on 87th Street and then saw the same car come out of the alley between Exchange Avenue and Escanaba Avenue. The car began to chase them, and Atkins saw the rifle come out of the passenger window. He ran through a vacant lot and jumped into a garbage dumpster to hide. He heard three or four additional gunshots while hiding.

         ¶ 6 When he exited the dumpster, Atkins realized that Pitts was not with him. He walked through the vacant lot and observed Johnny Edwards, who had been shot. Atkins thought Edwards was still alive at that time because he heard Edwards's brother ask for help. Atkins testified that he called 911 and remained on the scene. Atkins identified defendant in a photo array that night and a few days later, he identified defendant in a lineup.

         ¶ 7 The State presented testimony from four disinterested eyewitnesses to the shooting. Noe Maciel testified that on February 20, 2009, he lived at 8717 South Exchange Avenue. At around 3 p.m., Maciel was in his apartment and heard shots from outside. He looked out his window to see a young black man, later identified as Raheem Washington, standing behind Maciel's Lincoln Navigator. He then observed defendant wearing a red jacket and holding a rifle. Maciel saw defendant fire the rifle toward Washington. The shot shattered the window of his Navigator. Washington ran out of his view and then Maciel saw defendant run towards a gangway. Maciel called 911 and went outside to see the damage to his vehicle. When he got outside, he heard a woman call out and saw Washington lying on the ground in the gangway. Maciel identified defendant in a photo array that evening, and later he identified defendant as the shooter in a lineup.

         ¶ 8 William Brown testified that on February 20, 2009, he was working at his automotive repair shop at 87th Street and Exchange Avenue. He heard a commotion and went outside. Brown stated that he saw a group of Hispanic men arguing with an African-American man on the corner. One Hispanic man stood face to face with the African-American man, but after a minute or two, the African-American turned away. Brown said the Hispanic men got back in the car and drove east. About a minute later, Brown heard five gunshots and ducked behind a dumpster. He observed kids running and heard more gunshots.

         ¶ 9 Lilia Esquivel testified that at around 3 p.m. on February 20, 2009, she was walking westbound on the north side of 87th Street with her three children. As she was nearing the intersection with Exchange, she heard what she initially thought was fireworks. Esquivel crouched down with her children. As she was bent down, she observed a person in a red shirt holding a long gun. When the shots stopped, she saw several African-American people running toward 87th. She saw a dark blue car exit the alley and turn westbound on 87th Street. She was approximately 20 to 25 feet away. Esquivel observed one of the occupants of the vehicle lean out of the car and fire at the group of African-Americans she had seen running. Esquivel testified that she thought it was the same shooter as earlier, but the first time she saw him, she did not see his face and the second time she only saw the profile. Esquivel then continued home and observed Pitts's body lying on the sidewalk in front of her house. Esquivel did not identify defendant in a photo array. When she viewed the lineup, Esquivel indicated that she "thought" defendant was the shooter, but she was "not 100 percent."

         ¶ 10 Hamon Charleson testified that at around 3 p.m. on February 20, 2009, he was at a bus stop near 87th Street and Escanaba Avenue with his sister-in-law when he heard gunshots. He observed several school children running towards him on the north side of 87th Street. Charleson then saw a dark car pull out of the alley between Escanaba and Exchange and turn west on 87th Street. He saw the torso of the shooter leaning out of the passenger side of the car with a rifle. Charleson heard defendant shouting racial expletives, "run, n***, run; die, motherf***, die; die, n***, die." Charleson testified that he observed defendant shoot Pitts in the head. The bus arrived during the shooting, and Charleson placed his sister-in-law on the bus. Charleson subsequently identified defendant in a photo array and lineup as the shooter.

         ¶ 11 Pitts was pronounced dead on the scene. Washington and Edwards died later that day at the hospital. Based on the information from Atkins and other witnesses, the police identified defendant as a possible suspect. The police went to his ...

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