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People v. Hunt

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

November 16, 2016

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
DEMOND L. HUNT, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of De Kalb County. No. 13-CF-898 Honorable John F. McAdams, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE SPENCE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hutchinson and Birkett concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          SPENCE, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Following a jury trial, defendant, Demond L. Hunt, was convicted of two counts of armed robbery (720 ILCS 5/18-2(a)(2) (West 2012)) and one count of aggravated battery (720 ILCS 5/12-3.05(f)(2) (West 2012)). On appeal, he argues that: (1) he was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and (2) his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to tender a jury instruction on accomplice witness testimony. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On February 14, 2014, defendant was charged by indictment with two counts of armed robbery, one count of aggravated battery, and one count of unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon. Prior to trial, the weapons charge was severed, and the State proceeded to trial on the remaining counts.

         ¶ 4 Defendant's jury trial began on April 14, 2014. In his opening statement, the assistant State's Attorney said that the jury "should question" the credibility of State witness Mariah Romero and that she was "a liar" who had lied to the police. He further stated that Romero had a deal with the State, allowing her to plead guilty to obstructing justice rather than face charges for armed robbery, and that the jury "should question her credibility based on all of that." He additionally stated that, if the case were based on Romero's testimony alone, the jury should find defendant not guilty, but that the jury was going to hear testimony from several other witnesses. Defense counsel similarly argued that the Romero was not believable.

         ¶ 5 We now summarize events according to the victims' testimony. On November 27, 2013, Beth Keller and Britany Garcia were working at the office of the University Heights apartment complex, at 1120 Varsity Boulevard in De Kalb. Keller was the property manager, and Garcia worked in the office part-time. Shortly after 4 p.m., a woman came into the office. Keller was on the phone and asked if she could help her. The woman said that she had a question, and Keller asked her to wait one moment. However, shortly before Keller got off the phone, the woman left.

         ¶ 6 About 2 to 15 minutes later, a man with a rubbery white "Michael Myers" mask came into the office. Keller could see that the man was black, as she could see his skin through the mask's eyeholes. Garcia could not see the man's skin, but his voice sounded like that of a black man. Garcia said that she was 5 feet 4 inches tall and that the man was a couple of inches taller and "a little bit heavier set." The man had a small black revolver in his hands. He repeatedly told Keller and Garcia to get on the floor. Garcia got on her knees and put her hands up. Keller refused to get down, and she hit the "panic button" to call the police. The man hit her on the right side of her face with the gun, knocking her down. He asked for money, but Garcia said that they could not open the safe. After the man "realized he wasn't going to get anything, " he took Keller's purse, which was under her desk, and Garcia's phone before running out the door. Keller's purse contained her engagement ring, wedding band, Social Security card, and driver's license, and some credit cards, cash, and cigarettes. Garcia's phone was a white Nokia Lumia. After the man left, Garcia called 911.

         ¶ 7 Keller later learned that the police recovered the engagement ring but not the wedding band. At trial, she identified a photograph of the ring. Garcia testified that on January 23, 2014, she went to the police department and identified a cell phone as hers based on its contents, including photographs and music. At trial, Garcia was shown a picture of a gun recovered by the police, and she testified that it appeared to be the same size and color as the robber's gun.

         ¶ 8 Romero provided the following testimony. Along with defendant, she was charged with armed robbery in connection with the incident. The minimum sentence for that charge was 21 years. She also had a misdemeanor shoplifting charge pending in an unrelated case. Romero had spoken to the assistant State's Attorney twice about her testimony. In exchange for her "truthful testimony" at trial, the State would dismiss the armed robbery charge and she would be allowed to plead to obstructing justice and receive a sentence of conditional discharge.

         ¶ 9 On November 27, 2013, Romero was living at 1120 Varsity Boulevard, in apartment 314, with defendant. They were in a dating relationship, and she was currently pregnant with their child. Only Romero's name was on the apartment lease, but they both had keys to the apartment. On the day in question, Romero told defendant that she was going to the apartment complex office because she wanted to "break" her lease and move out. Romero went to the office and saw two women there. The older woman asked her to wait a minute, and Romero left. She returned to her apartment briefly; defendant was not there at that time. Romero then went downstairs to her neighbor's apartment. After a couple of minutes, she saw defendant in the hallway. Two police officers entered the hallway, and defendant "basically fled" from Romero. One of the officers asked her to step out of the apartment and state her name. She gave the false name of Margaret Cartwright because she had a pending warrant for retail theft. The officers took her to the police station and questioned her.

         ¶ 10 At the station, a detective asked Romero about the robbery that had just occurred in the office. Because of her warrant, Romero initially lied and said that she did not know anything about it. Romero later implicated Edcedric Williams and a man named "John-John" as having been involved in the robbery. She did not have any information suggesting that they participated, and at trial she could not explain why she named them.

         ¶ 11 At some point in the conversation, the detective said that he knew that Romero was lying about her name and "everything else, " so Romero told him her real name. However, she identified Williams in a photo lineup as having been involved in the robbery. She kept lying to protect herself from the warrant, not to protect defendant. The detective exited and entered the room again and said that the police knew everything that had happened, so Romero then implicated defendant in the robbery. Romero also identified him in a photo lineup as having robbed the office. However, she initially identified him as "Demond Oliver, " even though she knew that Oliver was not his real last name.

         ¶ 12 Romero consented to a search of her apartment. At trial, Romero identified pictures of her bathroom that showed a cell phone on the vanity. She had been in the bathroom 20 to 30 minutes before the robbery, and she did not know how the cell phone came to be there. Romero also identified pictures showing a boot that belonged to her, with a gun inside. Romero recognized the gun as belonging to defendant; she had last seen him with it weeks before the robbery. Romero further identified pictures of the following items as belonging to defendant: a clipper bag, a wallet, and two debit cards, an identification card, and a Social Security card all with defendant's name.

         ¶ 13 Romero agreed that she had lied to the police several times during the course of the investigation. She further agreed that, in light of those lies and the deal she had made with the State, people would have a hard time believing anything she said. However, she said, her testimony that day was the truth.

         ¶ 14 On cross-examination, Romero agreed that she had also told the police that she was telling the truth. When she first saw the two officers in the apartment building, she told one officer that she had not seen anything suspicious. Romero then told the second officer that she had observed two unfamiliar males, and she described their clothing. At the police station, Romero initially said that she had started off that day in her apartment, with a person named Kiera Evans, and that she then left and went to apartment 218 with a person named Delaney Offord. Romero said that she went to the office to get some change and that in the hallway she saw a black male with a black or gray hoodie and a mixed-race Hispanic man. Romero then changed her story and told the police that she started off in apartment 218 with Offord, Offord's sister "Jasmine, " and Jasmine's boyfriend. Romero said that at this point John-John and a biracial man came in and talked about committing a robbery.

         ¶ 15 After Romero gave the police her real name, she told them that she had been at the apartment of Wargineele Dixon, Williams' girlfriend, in University Village. Williams was there and he asked her if she knew of a place that he could rob. Romero suggested her apartment complex, and she went there with him. Williams showed her the handgun he was going to use, and she said that she would stake out the office first. After telling the police this story, Romero identified Williams in a photo lineup. Williams was a black male between 5 feet 4 inches and 6 feet tall.

         ¶ 16 Romero characterized defendant as living with her in her apartment, but she agreed that he actually just stayed with her on occasion. At the time of the robbery, she believed that she was pregnant, but it had not been confirmed. She knew that defendant also had another girlfriend. In Romero's apartment, defendant's possessions were in a single travel bag. When Romero was arrested, she had $87 cash in her possession.

         ¶ 17 Romero agreed that it was her understanding that, in order to get the plea deal, her testimony had to be against defendant. Pursuant to the deal, she would not have to spend additional time in jail and would not have to report to a probation officer. Also, her retail theft charge would be dismissed. Romero agreed that being in jail was "not pleasurable" and that prison would likely be worse.

         ¶ 18 On redirect examination, Romero testified that, when defendant fled from the hallway, he passed one of the officers and went down a staircase in the middle of the hallway. Immediately afterward, Romero testified that an officer was coming toward them and "just ...


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