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People v. Harris

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

December 27, 2016

DARIEN HARRIS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 11 CR 11184 The Honorable Nicholas Ford, Judge, presiding.

          Justice Neville concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 On June 7, 2011, Rondell Moore and Quincy Woulard were each shot several times at a Chicago gas station. Moore died of his wounds, after fleeing the station on foot. Woulard survived. After a bench trial, the court convicted defendant Darien Harris of first degree murder in Moore's death and attempted first degree murder of Woulard, and sentenced Harris to an aggregate term of 76 years of imprisonment.

         ¶ 2 On appeal, Harris argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, but we find that a reasonable trier of fact could credit the eyewitnesses who saw Harris shoot Moore and Woulard. He also raises an as-applied challenge to his sentence, contending that it contravenes the Illinois Constitution. Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 11. We agree. Without diminishing the seriousness of Harris's crimes, we believe it shocks the moral sense of the community to impose what amounts to a life sentence on Harris, who turned 18 just a few months before the shooting, thereby eliminating any chance of Harris becoming a contributing member of society. Finally, we direct the clerk of court to correct the mittimus to reflect Harris's conviction for only one count of attempted first degree murder.

         ¶ 3 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 Ronald Moore testified that on June 7, 2011, he and his younger brother Rondell Moore drove into a BP gas station at the corner of Stony Island and Marquette on the south side of Chicago. Rondell was having car trouble. He put up the car's hood and a local mechanic, Quincy Woulard, arrived on his bike and was helping Rondell with the car's engine. Ronald stayed in the back seat.

         ¶ 5 Ronald saw a black Lexus pull into the gas station parking lot from Marquette. Ronald had seen the car on Cottage Grove a few days before, and recognized the driver from the neighborhood of 65th and Minerva (though Ronald did not know the driver's name). The Lexus drove around the station office until Ronald could not see it. Ronald then heard a number of gunshots-more than five. Ronald looked out the back passenger's side window and saw Harris shooting a chrome handgun at Rondell. Ronald recognized Harris from the Minerva neighborhood, but did not know his name. Harris was only a few feet away from Ronald during the shooting.

         ¶ 6 Rondell ran, hopped over a fence along the gas station's property, and went towards the parking lot of a Chase bank situated next door to the gas station. Harris continued shooting as Rondell fled. Ronald was unable to leave the car through the passenger's side door, so he scooted across the seat towards the driver's side. Harris was still shooting at Woulard, and suddenly pointed the gun at Ronald and pulled the trigger. Ronald heard a click, but the gun did not fire. Harris then ran towards Stony Island.

         ¶ 7 Ronald got out of the car, chased Harris a few feet, and turned to find his brother. Meanwhile, the Lexus drove through the Chase parking lot and Ronald could only see one person (the driver).

         ¶ 8 When the police arrived, Ronald heard a message over a police radio that the Lexus had been found at a Walgreens drug store, across the street from the Chase bank. Ronald ran to the Walgreens and recognized the Lexus. He told police the driver killed Rondell, but testified at trial that the driver was not actually the shooter. He did not see Harris in the Lexus at that time.

         ¶ 9 A couple days after the shooting, a neighborhood acquaintance showed Ronald a YouTube video of a black Lexus. Ronald recognized both the Lexus's driver and the shooter, though he did not know their names. He informed police, and eight days after the shooting, at a lineup, Ronald identified Harris as the shooter.

         ¶ 10 Dexter Saffold testified that he used his scooter to go to a restaurant in the neighborhood that evening. He was rolling northbound on Stony Island in front of the BP station when he heard gunshots. Saffold froze, and saw the shooter from about 18 feet away. The shooter was holding a dark handgun, and Saffold could see the muzzle flashes and heard more than two gunshots. Saffold could see the shooter aiming the gun at a person near a car with its hood up, and another man on a bicycle in the same area. The shooter ran past Saffold, bumping into him, and almost dropped the gun while trying to put it into his pocket. Saffold saw another person running behind the fence, which had some openings in it. The shooter ran behind the Chase bank, out of Saffold's view. Saffold went to the gas station to call 911 and saw a man lying on the ground by the car and bicycle. Saffold spoke to the police when they arrived, and on June 15, 2011, identified Harris in a lineup as the shooter.

         ¶ 11 Quincy Woulard testified that he often assisted people with car repairs at the BP station. He saw his friend "Blink" (Rondell Moore) at the station, who asked Woulard to look at his car because it was overheating. While Woulard was looking under the hood, he heard three shots and then fell to the ground. Someone said, "he running down the alley, " and Woulard saw someone was running in the alley. Woulard had been shot three times, but did not see who shot him.

         ¶ 12 Aaron Jones testified that on June 7, 2011, he was driving a black Lexus in the area of Minerva, Stony Island, and 65th, selling marijuana. A man he knew as "Chucky" (Harris) waved at him to stop and asked Jones for a ride to the gas station. Jones drove "Chucky" to the BP station at 66th and Stony Island, and dropped him off in the parking lot. Jones then left and headed home, but then backtracked to buy cigarettes at a drugstore at 67th and Stony Island. Before he could reach the store, Jones was pulled over by police. He later identified Harris to police.

         ¶ 13 During his testimony, Jones recanted his statement to police, now testifying that Harris had not been in Jones's car and that the police had coerced Jones into making the statement and identification by threatening him with jail. Police officers testified that they had not pressured Jones to identify Harris.

         ¶ 14 During closing argument, the State noted that it was not required to prove motive, but theorized that there was "some sort of beef" between Harris and the Moore brothers. The trial court found Harris guilty of Rondell Moore's murder, basing its guilty verdict on Saffold's testimony: "among all the witnesses that I heard from, his testimony was unblemished by any of the cross-examination, " and he corroborated Ronald Moore's and Jones's testimony. The trial court indicated that some "inconsistencies" in the testimony did not create a reasonable doubt. The court said Jones's recantation might have been motivated by fear due to his own involvement in the crime. The trial court also found Harris guilty of the attempted first degree murder of Woulard.

         ¶ 15 Before sentencing, Harris's counsel presented evidence of his lack of prior criminal record, supportive family, and educational achievements while in prison. After stating it had considered all the appropriate factors, the trial court commented, "I am sorry that the sentencing parameters are such that my options are somewhat limited. Although, I do feel you should be treated seriously." The trial court sentenced Harris to 45 years of imprisonment on the murder conviction: 20 years for the offense plus 25 years for the mandatory firearm enhancement. The trial court also sentenced Harris on three counts of attempted murder: 26 years for Count 71 (6 years plus 20 years for the mandatory firearm enhancement); 31 years for Count 72 (6 years plus 25 years enhancement); and 31 years for count 73 (6 plus 25). The attempted murder counts were to run concurrently with each other, but consecutively to the murder sentence. Finally, the court sentenced him to 20 years for aggravated battery, concurrent with the attempted murder sentences. Harris's aggregate sentence was 76 years.

         ¶ 16 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 17 Evidence Sufficient to Prove Harris Guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

         ¶ 18 The relevant inquiry when challenging the sufficiency of the evidence involves, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, whether any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. People v. Campbell, 146 Ill.2d 363, 374 (1992). As a reviewing court, we will not substitute our judgment for that of the trier of fact on questions concerning the weight of the evidence or the credibility of the witnesses. Id. at 375. And, we will not reverse a criminal conviction unless the evidence is so unreasonable, improbable, or unsatisfactory as to create a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt. Id.

         ¶ 19 First Degree Murder

         ¶ 20 Harris argues that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of first degree murder of Rondell. A person commits first degree murder if, in performing the acts that cause a death, he or she either intends to kill or do great bodily harm to the victim or another individual, knows that the acts will cause the victim's or another's death, or knows the acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to the victim or another. 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (a)(2) (West 2008).

         ¶ 21 According to Harris, Rondell was not shot at the gas station, but rather in the Chase bank parking lot, and that this is shown by the lack of a blood trail from the gas station to the bank, and the possibility that two different firearms were used in the crime. Since no witnesses were there, and no evidence tied Harris to a gun, there must have been a second shooter at the bank, and Harris could not be proven guilty of Rondell's murder.

         ¶ 22 The problem with Harris's theory is that it is not supported by evidence in the record. Harris states that, since Rondell managed to flee from the gas station to the bank parking lot, he could not have been shot until he reached the bank (based on the injuries he suffered). But neither party at trial presented evidence as to what physical feats Rondell would, or would not, have been capable of after being shot at the gas station. Harris is merely asking us to speculate on the stipulated medical evidence. But even if we were to accept Harris's theory that Rondell was not shot until after he fled to the Chase parking lot, a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the man who shot Woulard in the BP parking lot and chased Rondell to the Chase bank parking lot was the same man who shot Rondell in the Chase parking lot. Thus, the lack of a blood trail does not exculpate Harris. Similarly, even if Rondell was shot with a different gun than Woulard, there was nothing preventing Harris from carrying two firearms during the crime.

         ¶ 23 The lack of evidence tying Harris to a gun does not change this conclusion. Both Ronald Moore and Dexter Saffold identified Harris as the man who fired a gun in the BP parking lot. Though Ronald Moore's credibility could be challenged based on his apparent animosity towards Harris (and others from Harris's neighborhood), Dexter Saffold had no connection to either the victims or Harris, and the trial court found Saffold credible. People v. Petermon, 2014 IL App (1st) 113536, ¶ 30 (testimony of single eyewitness sufficient to convict if eyewitness credible and able to view defendant under conditions permitting positive identification). (This leaves aside Aaron Jones who recanted.) Harris's citation to In re Nasie M., 2015 IL App (1st) 151678, does not help his cause; in Nasie M., the evidence was insufficient to support Nasie's conviction because there was no medical or forensic evidence, and also no eyewitnesses. 2015 IL App (1st) 151678, ¶ 37.

         ¶ 24 Moore's and Saffold's credibility also finds support in the surveillance video from the gas station, which depicts a sequence of events in line with their descriptions: the victims' arrival at the gas station by car and bike; a black Lexus dropping off a passenger on the other side of the gas station; the shooter walking towards the victims; and the victims' attempts to flee. (The angle of the video camera prevented the shooting from being captured on tape.) From this evidence, a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that ...

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