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People v. Veach

Supreme Court of Illinois

May 18, 2017


          JUSTICE KILBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Karmeier and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 In this appeal, we examine the propriety of a growing practice in the appellate court of declining to consider ineffective assistance of counsel claims on direct review. A Coles County jury found defendant, Blackie Veach, guilty of two counts of attempted murder and rejected defendant's theory that someone else committed the crimes. On direct review, defendant argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for stipulating to the admission of recorded statements of the State's witnesses. A majority of the appellate court affirmed, holding that the record was inadequate to resolve the issue. The majority encouraged defendant to raise the issue in a postconviction petition. 2016 IL App (4th) 130888, ¶¶ 89, 92. We allowed defendant's petition for leave to appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 315 (eff. Mar. 15, 2016).

         ¶ 2 We hold that the record in this case was sufficient for the appellate court to consider defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claim on direct review and, therefore, the appellate court erred in declining to consider the claim. We reverse the judgment of the appellate court and remand the cause to the appellate court for further review.

         ¶ 3 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 The issue in this case concerns defendant's claim that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by stipulating to the admission of recorded statements of the State's key witnesses, Johnny Price, Matthew Price, and Renee Strohl. Accordingly, we limit the background of this case to those witnesses and the facts necessary to an understanding of defendant's claim.

         ¶ 5 Defendant was charged with the attempted murders of his longtime friends, Matthew Price and Renee Strohl. He was also charged with the lesser-included offenses of aggravated battery. The charges arose from a December 12, 2012, incident at Matthew and Renee's home in Charleston, when defendant allegedly cut Matthew's and Renee's throats with a knife.

         ¶ 6 At defendant's jury trial, Johnny Price, Matthew's cousin, testified that on December 12, 2012, he went to Matthew and Renee's house. While there, he and Matthew drank alcohol and smoked synthetic marijuana. Renee also drank alcohol.

         ¶ 7 Johnny testified that Matthew and Renee went into the bathroom together. When they came out, they sat together. Shortly thereafter, Johnny saw defendant cut Matthew's throat with a knife, and then defendant cut Renee's throat. Johnny ran from the house when Matthew pushed defendant onto an adjacent mattress. Johnny thought defendant was chasing him so he ran to a nearby Dairy Queen and called his grandmother. The police came to the Dairy Queen and took Johnny to the station where he gave a videotaped statement. Johnny was impeached with a prior conviction for retail theft.

         ¶ 8 Johnny's videotaped interview was admitted by stipulation of the parties. The State offered no reason it wanted to admit the videotape. Defense counsel wanted to use portions of the videotape for impeachment and stated that by using the videotape for impeachment, he understood he was "going to open the door" to admitting the "whole video." When the State moved to play the entire recording, defense counsel responded, "The entire interview?" The State responded, "I believe under the doctrine of completeness the-everything needs to be seen." Defense counsel responded that he had no objection to admitting the videotape in its entirety as long as the defense would be permitted "to call rebuttal."

         ¶ 9 The videotape was played for the jury in its entirety. In that recording, Johnny described the attack six different times, consistently implicating defendant. Johnny also stated that defendant was involved in a street gang and had previously threatened him. Various parts of Johnny's videotaped statement, however, contradicted his trial testimony.

         ¶ 10 Matthew Price testified that he was in a two-year relationship with Renee Strohl. He and Renee lived together, and defendant, who had been Matthew's best friend, often stayed with them. In the summer of 2012, Matthew heard that defendant was having an affair with Renee, but Matthew did not believe defendant "would do that."

         ¶ 11 Matthew further testified that on the day of the incident, December 12, 2012, he and Renee were at their home with Johnny and defendant. Matthew and Renee went into the bathroom and had sex. When they came out of the bathroom, defendant was standing at the bathroom door. Defendant complained, saying that was "bogus." Matthew and Renee sat back down together. Defendant then asked to speak with Matthew on the back porch.

         ¶ 12 On the back porch, defendant said that he had to put a "hit" on Renee because she had beaten up defendant's friend, Debbie Davis. He told defendant to "just let it go" because Renee had been charged with an aggravated battery and because it was "just a female fight." Defendant agreed to drop the issue.

         ¶ 13 Matthew and defendant then went back inside, and Matthew sat next to Renee. Defendant sat behind them and began talking to Matthew. Defendant next said: "You're not my brother. You never had been." Matthew then felt "warmness running down his neck." Matthew put his hand up to his neck and felt his hand being cut. Matthew yelled, "call 911." Matthew stood up and saw defendant cutting Renee's neck with a knife. Matthew then punched defendant in the face. Defendant dropped the knife and fell back onto an adjacent bed. Matthew was going to start hitting defendant, but Johnny ran between them and knocked Matthew off balance. Johnny ran out the back door, and defendant followed him.

         ¶ 14 Matthew gave an audio-recorded statement to police after the incident. The parties stipulated to the admission of Matthew's audio-recorded statement and to its publication to the jury. It revealed inconsistencies between Matthew's recorded account of the incident and his trial testimony. In the recording, Matthew told four different versions of defendant's alleged knife attack. Matthew asserted that defendant's motive was retaliation for an earlier fight between Renee and Debbie Davis. Matthew also described defendant as "a real big alcoholic, and that's all he does now is drink."

         ¶ 15 On cross-examination, Matthew acknowledged that less than two weeks after the incident, on December 23, 2012, Renee accused him of "cheating" and she "put her hands on me [and] got me locked up for domestic." Matthew denied holding a knife to Renee's throat. Matthew also denied threatening to commit suicide using a knife but admitted he had threatened suicide by hanging himself. Matthew was impeached with three prior felony convictions.

         ¶ 16 Renee Strohl testified that she was in a relationship with Matthew from March 2011 to February 2013. She and Matthew lived together. In the summer of 2012, Matthew began repeatedly accusing her of having an affair with defendant and two other men. On several occasions, Matthew held a knife on Renee and threatened to cut himself.

         ¶ 17 In early November 2012, Matthew forced Renee to fight Debbie Davis by threatening Renee with a gun. After the fight, Renee and defendant attempted to leave, but Matthew told them that if they left or contacted the police ...

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