Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 ...