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People v. Thomas

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

March 6, 2017

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
DERRICK THOMAS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 12 CR 485, Honorable Stanley J. Sacks, Judge Presiding.

          Attorney for Appellant Michael J. Pelletier, State Appellate Defender, Office of the State, Appellate Defender, (Patricia Mysza and Rebecca Cohen, of counsel), -Derrick Thomas.

          Attorney for Appellee Kimberly M. Foxx, State's Attorney, County of Cook, Richard J. Daley Center, Chicago, (Alan J. Spellberg, Mary P. Needham and Jesse B. Guth, of counsel), -The People of the State of Illinois.

          Justice: Hon. Sheldon A. Harris, J., delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion., Hon. John B. Simon, J., concurred in the judgment and opinion. Hon. Mary L. Mikva, J., dissented, with opinion.

          OPINION

          HARRIS JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Following a jury trial, defendant Derrick Thomas was convicted of first degree murder, attempted first degree murder and attempted armed robbery. The jury found that in committing the first degree murder, defendant used a firearm that proximately caused the victim's death and in committing the attempted first degree murder, defendant personally discharged a firearm that proximately caused great bodily harm. Defendant, who was 18 years old at the time of these offenses, was sentenced to consecutive terms of 45 years for first degree murder, 31 years for attempted first degree murder, and 4 years for attempted armed robbery, for a total sentence of 80 years. On appeal, defendant argues that prison term represents a de facto life sentence that violates the bar against cruel and unusual punishment in the eighth amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution, because the trial court lacked the ability to impose a lesser sentence in light of his age and rehabilitative potential and the attendant circumstances of his youth. Defendant also contends that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge his sentence as unconstitutional on those grounds.

         ¶ 2 The following evidence presented at trial is relevant to defendant's sentencing claim. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder for the fatal shooting of Arvon Grays and attempted first degree murder for shooting Terrance Redditt in his side.

         ¶ 3 At trial, Redditt testified that in 2011, he worked at a restaurant called Dillinger's in Calumet Park. Redditt and defendant exchanged phone numbers after Redditt showed defendant some jackets and tire rims that Redditt was selling out of the trunk of his car. About a week later, defendant called Redditt and brought a customer to him who bought $600 worth of rims.

         ¶ 4 On November 15, 2011, defendant called Redditt from a phone number that was different from the number defendant had previously given. They spoke about the tire rims and discussed a credit card scam that Redditt would perform. Defendant told Redditt that defendant's brother wanted to buy a set of rims from Redditt for $4200.

         ¶ 5 After that conversation, Redditt and Grays met defendant at 117th Street and Lowe Avenue in Chicago. Two teenagers were standing on the porch with defendant when Redditt and Grays drove up. Redditt asked defendant where the potential buyer was, and according to Redditt, defendant "got on the phone and made it like he was calling someone." Redditt walked back toward his car, where Grays sat, to get a cigarette. While standing with his back to defendant, Redditt told Grays he did not think defendant was going to buy anything and said defendant was "probably on some stickup stuff."

         ¶ 6 When Redditt turned back around to face defendant, defendant pointed a gun at Redditt's stomach and said, "Give me everything." Redditt asked defendant if he was "for real." Defendant shot Redditt in the stomach. Redditt ran away, and defendant fired two more shots, striking Redditt in the side. Redditt stated that he and Grays were not armed.

         ¶ 7 Defendant fled after Redditt shouted for help and pretended that he saw a police officer. Redditt made his way to a nearby porch and heard more gunshots. Redditt was taken by ambulance to Stroger Hospital, where he had surgery. Redditt testified that he continues to have stomach pains as a result of the shooting. Redditt identified defendant in a photograph and a police lineup. Grays was shot in the lower back and died from that wound.

         ¶ 8 Robert Williams testified that on the day of the shootings, defendant arrived at the house of a mutual friend. Diamond Isom was also present. Defendant asked to use Isom's phone because "he said he wanted to do a little sting or something like that." Williams testified that to "hit a sting" means to rob someone. Defendant showed Williams a gun in his pocket and said he planned to rob a friend that he had met.

         ¶ 9 Williams and Isom went on the porch with defendant. When a car drove up, defendant approached the car and spoke to the occupants, one of whom remained seated in the car. Williams later identified the driver of the car as Redditt. Defendant ordered them to not move and shot Redditt as Redditt fled. Williams did not see anyone else holding a weapon.

         ¶ 10 Isom testified that defendant paid her $50 to use her phone on the day of the shootings. She stated that defendant told her he "wanted to rob this man for his money and his car, " and defendant showed her a gun. Isom and Williams followed defendant to make sure she got her phone back. Isom described the shootings consistently with the accounts of Williams and Redditt. After shooting Reddit, defendant shot Grays, who was sitting in the car.

         ¶ 11 In the defense case, defendant testified that he had met Redditt on November 15, 2011, at a location other than that described by Redditt. Defendant said Redditt approached him and they discussed a credit card scam and exchanged phone numbers. Defendant said he gave Redditt his mother's phone number.

         ¶ 12 Defendant admitted meeting Redditt at 117th Street and Lowe Avenue but denied telling Williams and Isom that he had a weapon and intended to rob someone. Defendant said that when Redditt arrived, Williams and Isom were present, and he was holding a gun that belonged to Williams' brother.

         ¶ 13 Defendant admitted that he shot Redditt and Grays but testified that he did so in self-defense. He stated that he fired shots after Redditt unsuccessfully tried to pull a gun from his own waistband. After his arrest, defendant initially told police he was not involved in the shooting. Defendant implicated Williams after Redditt identified defendant in a lineup.

         ¶ 14 The jury found defendant guilty on all charged counts. The jury further found that in committing the first degree murder, defendant used a firearm that proximately caused the victim's death and in committing the attempted first degree murder, defendant personally discharged a firearm that proximately caused great bodily harm to the victim.

         ¶ 15 At sentencing, the State noted that the minimum sentence for which defendant was eligible was 80 years in prison and the maximum sentence was natural life imprisonment. The minimum sentence for the murder count was 20 years in prison, to which was added a 25-year sentence enhancement for using a firearm that proximately caused the victim's death, making the sentencing range for that offense 45 years to life imprisonment. The minimum sentence for attempted murder was 6 years in prison, to which was added a 25-year sentence enhancement for discharging a firearm, making the sentencing range for that offense 31 years to life imprisonment. The minimum sentence for attempted armed robbery was 4 years in prison, with the sentencing range for that offense being 4 to 15 years in prison.

         ¶ 16 The State presented a victim impact letter from Jeffana Fowlkes, Grays' sister. Acknowledging that defendant lacked a lengthy criminal history, the State described the case as "egregious, " noting that he had tricked the victims into coming to him. The State pointed out that Grays was shot as he sat in the car and Redditt was shot as he ran away from defendant.

         ¶ 17 Defense counsel agreed to the applicable sentencing ranges but objected to the sentencing scheme, asserting that it "seems unconscionable to me." Counsel noted that defendant had a weapons arrest as a juvenile. The court stated it would not consider that offense. Defense counsel told the court that defendant was completing school while in jail. Counsel also stated that defendant had no gang affiliation and he may have sustained abuse and neglect as a child.

         ¶ 18 Before imposing sentence, the trial court noted: "I don't believe the sentence is unconscionable. The legislature feels it's an appropriate sentencing range. They determined that in their opinion it's not unconscionable." The court stated that at the time of the offense, defendant was a "young guy" at 18 years of age and is "still a young guy" at 21 years of age but that defendant was responsible for his actions of shooting two people and killing one.

         ¶ 19 The court stated that defendant's prison sentence was a result of his actions on the day of the offense, finding "[t]hat's what got him there. He's a young guy but he made his choices that day" by killing Grays and wounding Redditt. The court noted that defendant was receiving the minimum sentence possible but remarked it was "practically a life sentence" and that defendant would not be restored to useful citizenship "unless he lives to be a really old man possibly which hopefully he does." The trial court sentenced defendant to consecutive terms of 45 years for first degree murder and 31 years for attempted first degree murder, with each of those sentences including a 25-year sentence enhancement for defendant's use of a firearm. The trial court also sentenced defendant to four years for attempted armed robbery, also to be served consecutively, for a total term of 80 years.

         ¶ 20 Defense counsel filed a motion to reconsider defendant's sentence, asserting the term was excessive given defendant's background and the nature of the offense, among other points. The trial court denied defendant's motion.

         ¶ 21 On appeal, defendant contends his 80-year sentence violates the eighth amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. VIII) and the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 11). Defendant asserts those protections were violated because the trial court was bound by the mandatory firearm sentencing enhancements that applied in his case and the court was not able to consider his age or the mitigating factors related to his ...


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