from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 12-CF-1269
Honorable Mark L. Levitt, Judge, Presiding.
SCHOSTOK JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Presiding Justice Hudson and Justice Spence
concurred in the judgment and opinion.
1 In this direct appeal from his conviction of first-degree
murder, the defendant, Hezekiah Whitfield, raises three
arguments: (1) the trial court should have suppressed his
unrecorded custodial statement to police pursuant to section
103-2.1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) (725
ILCS 5/103-2.1 (West 2010)), which renders such statements
presumptively inadmissible in a murder trial; (2) the trial
court erred in limiting his ability to present evidence of
other crimes committed by someone else who had been convicted
of the same murder (a conviction that was later overturned);
and (3) the trial court should have allowed him to present
evidence explaining his travel to Indonesia shortly after the
police obtained a DNA sample from him. Although we agree with
certain of these arguments, we affirm on the basis that the
trial court's errors were harmless in light of the
compelling DNA evidence against the defendant.
2 I. BACKGROUND
3 On December 9, 1994, Fred Reckling was found dead in a
Grand Appliance store in Waukegan. His head had been beaten
in. Four small droplet-type stains were found on the carpet
near the door. Pieces of the carpet containing the stains
were removed and sent for testing. Reckling's car was
recovered 10 days later in Chicago; there were stains on the
driver's seat, the steering wheel, and the threshold
between the door and the driver's seat. Later testing
showed that all of the stains on the carpet pieces and the
car were blood.
4 A little over a year later, James Edwards, who had been
arrested for a series of robberies in the Waukegan area, told
Waukegan police that he had murdered Reckling. He was
convicted of the murder in 1996. However, in 2010, the
supreme court granted Edwards's request for DNA testing
of the blood evidence in the case. The DNA from the blood
stains did not match either Reckling's or Edwards's
DNA. Edwards was subsequently cleared of the charges relating
to Reckling's death.
5 The DNA test ordered by the supreme court took place in May
2011. A comparison of this DNA with the CODIS DNA database
indicated a probable match with the defendant. On June 24,
2011, the Waukegan police pulled over the truck that the
defendant was driving. Shamiya Mathis, a woman whom the
defendant had begun dating a few months earlier, was with
him. The police took the defendant to a hospital and obtained
a DNA sample from him. They then released him.
6 On April 13 of the following year, the Chicago police
issued a warrant for the defendant's arrest in connection
with an assault on a woman named Ebony, who appears to have
been known to Mathis. Four days later, on April 17, 2012, the
Chicago police department received a report of an assault
involving the defendant and Mathis. Two patrol officers,
Christopher Erickson and his partner, Jacquelyn Spaargaren,
responded. They found the defendant outside in an alley with
a wound to his head. He told them that Mathis had struck him
in the head with something heavy. Both he and Mathis were
transported to the police station (the defendant was taken
first to a hospital for examination). The police questioned
both Mathis and the defendant. The circumstances of that
questioning are disputed, and we will address them in depth
later in this opinion. Mathis and the defendant were then
7 On May 2, 2012, the defendant was indicted for the murder
of Reckling. He was arrested on that charge on May 15, 2012.
Trial was eventually set to start on April 21, 2014.
8 A. Motion in Limine to Bar Evidence of
9 In January 2014, the defendant filed a motion in
limine seeking to bar the State from introducing any
evidence regarding the defendant's statement while in
police custody on April 17, 2012. His motion was based on
section 103-2.1 of the Code (recording statute), which
provided as follows:
statements by accused may be used.
(a) In this Section, 'custodial interrogation' means
any interrogation during which (i) a reasonable person in the
subject's position would consider himself or herself to
be in custody and (ii) during which a question is asked that
is reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.
In this Section, 'place of detention' means a
building or a police station that is a place of operation for
a municipal police department or county sheriff department or
other law enforcement agency, not a courthouse, that is owned
or operated by a law enforcement agency at which persons are
or may be held in detention in connection with criminal
charges against those persons.
In this Section, 'electronic recording' includes
motion picture, audiotape, or videotape, or digital
(b) An oral, written, or sign language statement of an
accused made as a result of a custodial interrogation at a
police station or other place of detention shall be presumed
to be inadmissible as evidence against the accused in any
criminal [homicide] proceeding *** unless:
(1)an electronic recording is made of the custodial
(2)the recording is substantially accurate and not
* * *
(e)Nothing in this Section precludes the admission *** (ii)
of a statement made during a custodial interrogation that was
not recorded as required by this Section, because electronic
recording was not feasible, *** (viii) of a statement given
at a time when the interrogators are unaware that a death has
in fact occurred, or (ix) of any other statement that may be
admissible under law. The State shall bear the burden of
proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that one of the
exceptions described in this subsection (e) is applicable.
Nothing in this Section precludes the admission of a
statement, otherwise inadmissible under this Section, that is
used only for impeachment and not as substantive evidence.
(f) The presumption of inadmissibility of a statement made by
a suspect at a custodial interrogation at a police station or
other place of detention may be overcome by a preponderance
of the evidence that the statement was voluntarily given and
is reliable, based on the totality of the
defendant argued that, under the recording statute, his
statement to police on April 17, 2012, was inadmissible in
any murder trial against him because it was the result of
custodial interrogation at a police station and it had not
been electronically recorded. The State did not file any
written response to the motion.
10 The hearing on the motion commenced on March 27, 2014, and
stretched over portions of four days. The State presented
three witnesses, all of them Chicago police officers:
Erickson, Spaargaren, and Juan Cardenas. Before testifying,
all of the officers had reviewed Spaargaren's written
report regarding her conversation with the defendant on April
17, 2012. ¶ 11 Erickson testified that he had been
patrolling with Spaargaren at about 8:15 p.m. on the evening
of April 17, 2012, when they received a call regarding a
domestic battery. He and Spaargaren responded to the call.
Cardenas and his partner also responded, arriving a few
12 Erickson found the defendant walking in an alley with a
laceration on his head and blood on his shirt. The defendant
said that he had been hit in the head with a blunt object,
and he identified two women (Mathis and another woman) as
having been involved. There was no odor of alcohol on the
defendant's breath and, except for some agitation due to
the assault, he was calm. Cardenas took the defendant to a
hospital to have his injuries examined, per police protocol.
Erickson and Spaargaren took Mathis to the police station.
13 Just before 9 p.m., the defendant was brought to the
police station. Erickson described the defendant's manner
as "normal, a little bit agitated, " because he was
"in a police station with the injuries still to his
head." The defendant was brought to the rear processing
room, where he was chained to a bench along one wall. (Mathis
was not in that room at that point.) The room was about 12
feet by 20 feet, with four desks and computers, and a holding
cell that was about 8 feet by 8 feet. There was no video
recording equipment in that room. Erickson believed that
there was "video in the back lock up area where
offenders [were] fingerprinted" but not in any of the
rooms where offenders were processed.
14 Erickson sat at a desk and began entering an incident
report regarding the assault upon the defendant by Mathis.
Spaargaren began questioning the defendant. She was sitting
near Erickson, "no more than five feet
approximately" away from him. Erickson did not read the
defendant his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384
U.S. 436 (1966), and he did not hear any other police officer
do that. Spaargaren did not say anything to Erickson about
the defendant being a suspect in a murder investigation.
15 In response to a question about when the defendant had
last encountered the police, Erickson heard him say something
to the effect of "I was recently stopped by
Waukegan" and "something about DNA." The
defendant then said, "My lawyer said don't talk
about anything." Erickson did not hear the defendant say
anything else. Erickson specifically denied hearing the
defendant say anything about leaving for Indonesia after
being DNA tested, when "they" were going to
"find out that I did it, " or about being
"safe because another guy [was] doing the time."
Asked whether Erickson heard the entire conversation between
Spaargaren and the defendant that Spaargaren described in her
written report, Erickson said that he did not; he heard only
the statement that he had described regarding the defendant
being stopped by the Waukegan police and his lawyer telling
him not to talk about it.
16 Cardenas testified next. He and his partner also responded
to the domestic battery call on the evening of April 17,
2012, arriving after Erickson and Spaargaren. The defendant
had a laceration on his forehead and one on his hand;
Cardenas believed that the latter was the source of the blood
on his shirt. Cardenas spoke with the defendant to see if he
needed medical assistance. The defendant's responses were
coherent, his demeanor was calm, and there was no indication
that he was under the influence of any alcohol or controlled
substance. He did not complain of being in pain. In fact, the
defendant declined to go to the hospital, but Cardenas and
his partner took him there anyway because police procedure
required a medical evaluation or a written refusal of medical
service. At the hospital, he was observed by a doctor, who
signed off on the defendant's refusal of medical
17 Cardenas then brought the defendant to the police
station's processing room. Cardenas described the room as
about 15 by 20 feet, with four computers and two benches.
Erickson and Spaargaren were in the room. Cardenas had not
Mirandized the defendant. When he did Mirandize suspects, he
used preprinted forms that were provided to the officers. The
defendant was handcuffed to a bench. He remained conscious
and did not complain of any pain or request water, food, or
to go to the bathroom.
18 Cardenas and his partner remained in the processing room
for the next 10 to 15 minutes, waiting to see if Erickson and
Spaargaren needed them for anything else. Erickson was
entering a report into the computer and Cardenas was standing
behind him. Spaargaren and the defendant were seven to eight
feet away, having a conversation. Cardenas saw them talking
but did not hear them. Cardenas thought Spaargaren and the
defendant spoke for three to five minutes.
19 Spaargaren testified that, when she responded to the
domestic battery call on April 17, 2012, she saw Mathis and
the defendant arguing in the alley behind Avenue M. She and
Erickson separated them. Both Mathis and the defendant
claimed to have been the victim of assault. The defendant was
taken to the hospital. In the squad car, Mathis told
Spaargaren that the defendant was named as the perpetrator of
an assault committed four days earlier, on April 13, 2012.
Spaargaren said that she would look into that when they got
to the police station. Mathis also said that the defendant
was wanted for a murder investigation in Waukegan. She said
that someone else was serving time for the murder, but the
defendant was still wanted in connection with the case.
20 When they got to the police station, Spaargaren looked up
the defendant and found that he had indeed been named as the
perpetrator of a battery to a woman named Ebony four days
earlier. However, she found no record of a warrant or stop
order or anything else indicating that the defendant was
wanted by police in connection with a murder.
21 Soon afterward, the defendant came into the processing
room at the police station and was handcuffed to a bench in
the room. Spaargaren described the processing room as
"13 by 12 or 14 by 14" with two computers in it. As
she recalled, the only other officers in the room were
Erickson and Cardenas. She sat across from the defendant and
had a conversation with him. She estimated that she was about
three feet away from him.
22 As she knew that he had been accused of an earlier
battery, she Mirandized him. She did this "off the top
of [her] head, " telling him that he had the right to
remain silent, that anything he said could and would be used
against him in a court of law, and that if he could not
afford an attorney one would be appointed for him. (Upon
being asked, Spaargaren said that she had also told him that
he had the right to have an attorney present.) She then asked
him if he understood, and he said yes.
23 According to Spaargaren's testimony, her interrogation
of the defendant was as follows:
"A. [Spaargaren:] I said I had gotten some information
you are wanted in a murder case in Waukegan. He said,
'What?' I said, 'Yes, you are wanted in a murder
investigation in Waukegan.' He said 'I was DNA tested
for that, and when they were going to find out I did it, I
fled to Indonesia. They can't do anything to me anymore.
Someone else is serving time for that.'
Q. [State's Attorney:] After he made that statement to
you, what did you say to him?
A. I said 'Were you there at the scene? Do you know the
person that is serving time? How are you involved?' He
said 'I don't want to talk about this anymore.'
said that she then stopped questioning the defendant.
24 On cross-examination, Spaargaren testified that she had
not had the defendant sign a statement of his
Miranda rights; she just recited them verbally based
on her 21 years of police experience. In her written report
of her interrogation of the defendant, she did not mention
the other questions she had asked him because she recorded
only what he said, "not anything that he did not
25 The defendant was the final witness at the hearing. As to
the events that occurred before the police arrived at the
scene on April 17, 2012, he said that Mathis had tried to
stab him and had hit him in the head with a pipe. He was
taken to a hospital by one of the police officers. However,
when it became clear that he would have to wait a long time
to be seen, he signed a waiver of medical treatment so that
he could leave. He was then taken to the police station and
handcuffed to the wall near a bench. The police gave him some
paper towels because the wound on his head had reopened. He
sat there for about 10 minutes. Spaargaren then approached
26 Spaargaren said that she had had a conversation with
Mathis, who had told Spaargaren that she was with the
defendant earlier when he was stopped by the Waukegan police
and was asked to give a DNA sample. Spaargaren told him that
Mathis had also said that he was wanted for a murder and
that, to escape being captured, he went to Indonesia. The
defendant testified that he did not say anything in response
to these statements.
27 Spaargaren then asked the defendant if he was wanted for a
murder. The defendant told her that to his knowledge he was
not wanted, and that if she wanted to confirm that by
searching the computers, ...