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People v. Heller

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

January 13, 2017

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ALAN W. HELLER, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from Circuit Court of Schuyler County No. 14CF2 Honorable Alesia A. McMillen, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Holder White and Pope concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          STEIGMANN, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 In January 2014, the State charged defendant, Alan W. Heller, with domestic battery and aggravated domestic battery, alleging that he grabbed and strangled his girlfriend, Tracy Shults. Prior to trial, the State filed a motion in limine pursuant to section 115-7.4 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) (725 ILCS 5/115-7.4 (West 2014)), seeking to admit evidence of prior domestic batteries committed by defendant. The trial court granted the motion.

         ¶ 2 At trial, Shults recanted the statements she made to police that defendant had hit and choked her. The State impeached her testimony with a recorded statement she made after the January 11, 2014, incident. In addition, the State introduced other-crimes testimony of defendant's ex-wife, Barbara Heller, detailing a domestic battery allegedly committed by defendant against Barbara in 2010. The jury found defendant guilty of domestic battery but not guilty of aggravated domestic battery. The trial court sentenced defendant to 4½ years in prison and imposed several fines and fees.

         ¶ 3 Defendant appeals, raising the following arguments: (1) the evidence was insufficient to prove defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of domestic battery, (2) the trial court abused its discretion by admitting other-crimes evidence, and (3) various errors occurred concerning the fines and fees imposed. We disagree and affirm.

          ¶ 4 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 5 A. The Charges

         ¶ 6 In January 2014, the State charged defendant with unlawful possession of methamphetamine (720 ILCS 646/60(a), (b)(1) (West 2014)), domestic battery (720 ILCS 5/12-3.2(a)(1) (West 2014)) (a Class 4 felony, based on prior convictions), and aggravated domestic battery (720 ILCS 5/12-3.3(a-5) (West 2014)) (a Class 2 felony). (The State later dismissed the methamphetamine charge.) The State alleged that defendant grabbed Shults by the throat.

         ¶ 7 B. The State's Section 115-7.4 Motion in Limine

         ¶ 8 Later that month, the State filed a motion in limine pursuant to section 115-7.4 of the Code (725 ILCS 5/115-7.4 (West 2014)), seeking to introduce Barbara's testimony of prior domestic batteries committed by defendant. In May 2014, the trial court conducted a hearing on that motion, and Barbara testified that she was defendant's ex-wife. They married in 2009, separated in 2010, and dissolved their marriage three months before the hearing. On January 24, 2010, Barbara and defendant had agreed to get divorced and were no longer living together. That evening, Barbara was sleeping on her living room couch with her three-year-old son when she awakened and discovered defendant on top of her, punching her in the face approximately 10 times. Barbara testified that defendant threatened to "slit my throat." He also told her "that nobody feels sorry for me, nobody was going to make a fool out of him, and I deserved it." After attacking Barbara, defendant got up and left. Barbara called the police. The State then made a proffer of what Shults would testify to at trial about the charged offenses.

         ¶ 9 Following arguments, the trial court ruled that Barbara's testimony as to the prior domestic battery committed by defendant was admissible pursuant to section 115-7.4 of the Code. In reaching that decision, the court explained, "I find those circumstances very, very similar, and I really think they're the reason that the [l]egislature created this statute." The court went on, "Now, to say it was a choke instead of a hit to the face, that doesn't make this a different circumstance."

         ¶ 10 C. The Trial

         ¶ 11 In August 2014, the trial court conducted a jury trial on the remaining charges of domestic battery and aggravated domestic battery.

         ¶ 12 1. The Jury Instruction Conference

         ¶ 13 Prior to trial, the parties agreed that the following jury instruction-based on Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Criminal, No. 3.14 (4th ed. 2000) (hereinafter, IPI Criminal 4th No. 3.14)-should be given to the jury concerning the other-crimes testimony of Barbara:

"Evidence has been received that the defendant has been involved in conduct other than that charged in the information. This evidence has been received on the issues of the factual similarity and proximity in time and may be considered by you only for that limited purpose. It is for you to determine whether the defendant was involved in that conduct, and, if so, what weight should be given to this evidence on the issues of factual similarity and proximity in time."

         Defendant continued to object to Barbara's other-crimes evidence being admitted. However, he agreed that if the court did admit that evidence, the aforementioned jury instruction should be given. The parties likewise agreed to have the court give the instruction immediately after Barbara's testimony and again before jury deliberations.

         ¶ 14 2. Opening Statements

         ¶ 15 During its opening statement, the State said the following about the expected testimony of Barbara:

"You are also going to hear from one other person, Barb Heller. Barb Heller is, or Barb Sheeley as she may be known, is the ex-wife of the defendant ***. She is going to testify about a similar event several years prior in January of 2010 while her [sic] and Mr. Heller, the defendant, were going through a divorce. He returned to the home in which they resided and, while she was sleeping on the couch, got on top of her and commenced striking her in the face, all with her son present."

         ¶ 16 3. The State's Evidence

         ¶ 17 Shults testified that defendant was her fiancé at the time of trial and that she had been in a relationship with him for the past year, including January 11, 2014. Shults testified further that on January 11, 2014, she was living with her daughter and defendant in Rushville, Illinois. That night, she and defendant had an argument about a message Shults received on her cell phone from a former romantic partner. Defendant got upset, "thinking that I was messing around on him." Defendant walked out of the home, and Shults followed after him, trying to explain the message. Shults eventually returned to the home, and defendant followed. They continued arguing inside the home. At some point, Shults called the police because she wanted defendant to leave. Shults testified that at no time that night did the argument turn physical.

         ¶ 18 Shults testified further that she remembered making a statement to police the evening of January 11 and participating in a recorded interview with police on January 28, 2014. However, Shults testified that she did not remember what she had told the officers on those two occasions. Specifically, she testified that she did not remember saying that defendant had struck her in the face or that defendant had choked her by placing his hands around her neck, impeding her breathing and nearly causing her to lose consciousness.

         ¶ 19 In response, the State completed the impeachment of Shults by playing the recorded interview in open court. On the recording, Shults was seen and heard telling police that defendant sat on top of her while she was on the bed and choked her twice-once using his hands and once using his forearm. Shults also told police that defendant punched her in the chest and jaw. Later, during direct examination, Shults testified that she told police those things only because "[t]hey kept asking me over and over, and I just finally told them what they wanted to hear so they would stop."

         ¶ 20 In addition, the State introduced photographs of Shults taken the night of January 11, 2014. Shults testified that the mark on her neck shown in the photographs occurred because "I break out in hives when I get nervous or upset." Shults testified further that the marks came from consensual sex with defendant earlier on January 11. Shults explained that between January 28, 2014, and the date of trial, she had called the State's Attorney twice to recant her recorded statement.

         ¶ 21 Rushville police officer Justin Stinnett testified that on January 11, 2014, he re- sponded to a 9-1-1 call from Shults. She and defendant were in their residence when Stinnett arrived. Stinnett noticed red marks on Shults' throat and chest. Stinnett spoke with defendant, who gave Stinnett an explanation of the night's events similar to Shults' trial testimony.

         ¶ 22 Barbara testified that on January 4, 2010, she was married to defendant but was no longer living with him because they had decided to divorce. That evening, she was asleep with her three-year-old son on the living room couch of her home. She was awakened by defendant hitting her in the face approximately 10 times. Defendant told Barbara "[t]hat nobody was going to make a fool out of him and that he would, he was going to kill me." Barbara's son was in the room when the attack occurred. During its examination of Barbara, the State introduced three photographs of Barbara's face taken while she was in the hospital after the alleged ...


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