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People v. Holman

Supreme Court of Illinois

September 21, 2017


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


          THEIS, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The central issue in this case is whether defendant Richard Holman, who received a sentence of life without parole for a murder that he committed at age 17, is entitled to a new sentencing hearing pursuant to Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012). We hold that the defendant's original sentencing hearing complied with Miller and affirm the Madison County circuit court's decision to deny his motion for leave to file a successive postconviction petition.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On July 13, 1979, Rodney Sepmeyer returned from work to the rural house near downstate Maryville where he lived with his 83-year-old grandmother, Esther Sepmeyer. Inside, Rodney found Esther's dead body kneeling and slumped forward over the side of a bed in a bedroom that they shared. She had been shot in the cheek just below the right eye, and a pool of blood stained the sheets. The house was ransacked, and a television, a turntable, a radio, and a lawnmower were missing. Rodney's .22-caliber rifle also was missing, and the metal cabinet in the bedroom where he stored the gun was open.

         ¶ 4 Rodney summoned his father, Lenard, who lived nearby. Lenard called the police. A crime scene technician found a spent .22-caliber shell casing at the base of the bedroom heating stove, as well as the empty rifle box and an empty box of rounds on the kitchen floor. The technician lifted latent fingerprints from the handle of a small mirror left on the bedroom floor and from the door of the metal cabinet. The coroner's physician later recovered a .22-caliber bullet from Esther's neck. According to the physician, Esther was likely knocked unconscious after being shot, but she may have lived for as long as a half-hour. After the autopsy, the investigation of Esther's murder stalled.

         ¶ 5 Several weeks later, the defendant and Girvies Davis were arrested and incarcerated in the St. Clair County jail for an unrelated offense. While there, the defendant and Davis both made inculpatory statements about their collaboration in a crime spree through Madison and St. Clair Counties. In his own handwriting, Davis listed 11 homicides, shootings, and robberies, which included Esther's murder. The defendant told police officers about eight homicides, all of which appeared on Davis's list, in addition to Esther's murder. Regarding that offense, both the defendant and Davis admitted that they took items from her house, but each accused the other of being the shooter.[1] They were charged by information with three counts of first degree murder. The police obtained a warrant and searched Davis's residence, where they found the radio and the lawnmower.[2] The State's fingerprint expert later matched the defendant's left index fingerprint to the fingerprints lifted from the mirror and the cabinet.

         ¶ 6 The defendant and Davis were tried together. On March 16, 1981, a jury found the defendant guilty of first degree murder.[3] Because he was five weeks from his eighteenth birthday at the time of the offense, he was not eligible for the death penalty. See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, ¶ 9-1(b). The multiple-murder sentencing statute in effect at that time provided that the court "may sentence the defendant to a term of natural life imprisonment" if any of the aggravating factors in section 9-1(b) of the Criminal Code of 1961 were present. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, ¶ 1005-8-1(a)(1). One of those aggravating factors was the prior murders of two or more persons. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, ¶ 9-1(b)(3). The case proceeded to sentencing.

         ¶ 7 The Madison County circuit court's probation and court services department prepared a presentence investigation report (PSI). [4] The PSI included the defendant's criminal history. At age 14, he was adjudicated delinquent for burglary and placed on two years' probation. At age 15, he was adjudicated delinquent for three counts of criminal damage to property and committed to the Department of Corrections' juvenile division. The defendant was paroled and then arrested for burglary three months later. His parole was revoked, and he was returned to the Department of Corrections. The defendant was paroled again at age 17. While he was free, Esther was murdered. The PSI contained the defendant's statement to the probation officer about that offense:

"I fenced the stolen stuff but I didn't commit the home invasion. I wasn't present when the murder took place. Girvies Davis made a statement indicating my name. That gave police enough grounds to question me. I refused to talk because I didn't know anything."

         ¶ 8 The PSI stated that the defendant's father died when the defendant was around 7 years old, and his stepfather died when he was around 16. The defendant reportedly had "a close, loving relationship" with his mother and six siblings. He was never married but reportedly had two young children. The defendant was healthy and suffered from no known physical disabilities. According to the PSI, the defendant had between seven and nine years of formal education, but he was "borderline retarded." The probation officer concluded:

"The defendant expressed no guilt for this offense or remorse for the victim, who was an 82 year old woman who posed no physical threat to him.
The defendant's history of senseless criminal acts of mortal violence toward others and lack of remorse for his victims indicates to this officer that the defendant has no predilection for rehabilitation."

         ¶ 9 Attached to the PSI were three psychological reports-two from a psychiatrist, Dr. Syed Raza, and one from a psychologist for the circuit court's probation department, Cheryl Prost. Dr. Raza's initial report described his interview with the defendant. The defendant offered an alternate version of the events on the date of Esther's murder. According to the defendant, he drove Davis's wife to work, drank beer at a bar with Davis, took a nap at home, picked up a girl, visited another bar and a "dice house, " and ended up at home. He woke the next morning and heard police officers speaking to his mother. The defendant was taken to the St. Clair County jail, where a detective interrogated him. He asserted that he did not understand most of the questions, and the detective "seemed mad at him and hit him." The defendant then was informed that he was charged with murder. Even though the defendant attended his own trial, he insisted that he still did not know who had been murdered or how the crime occurred: "My lawyer won't tell me either. They say I am stupid."

         ¶ 10 Dr. Raza noted that the defendant mentioned an incident prior to 1977 when he fell from a two-story building and hit his head. Afterwards, he was seen by a psychiatrist in Rockford. The defendant did not believe that he had a drinking problem. He had used marijuana for almost a year before his arrest. Dr. Raza found that the defendant's attitude was "a mixture of extreme apprehension with a sense of hopelessness, some depression and maybe a touch of manipulativeness." The interview was difficult because the defendant's eye contact was extremely poor and his answers were very vague. Dr. Raza detected no "thought disturbance" and tentatively diagnosed the defendant with "borderline or dull normal intelligence, acute reactive anxiety and some depression, " pending further evaluation and testing.

         ¶ 11 Prost's report described her interview with and tests of the defendant. The defendant again mentioned his childhood fall and stated that, since then, he had had a severe headache "like dynamite ready to explode, " which he treated with aspirin every day. Contrary to the PSI, Prost reported that the defendant stated that he was in seventh grade remedial classes before dropping out of school. On an intelligence test, the defendant scored in the borderline or mildly retarded range. Prost attributed some of his performance to "neurological impairment." Other tests confirmed that and indicated a high probability of organic brain damage. Prost recommended a neurological evaluation.

         ¶ 12 After reviewing Prost's report, Dr. Raza made an addendum to his initial report. Dr. Raza stated that he had reviewed the medical records of the defendant from the Warren G. Murray Children's Home in Centralia, where the defendant lived for two months in 1976. The records showed that the defendant received a full physical examination, which revealed no deficits. He was diagnosed as mildly mentally retarded. According to Dr. Raza, therapists at the home stated that the defendant "is at times not aware of his surroundings and is easily led into doing 'bad deeds, ' " due to his lack of confidence and high need for approval from more intelligent peers. Dr. Raza observed that the defendant's intelligence test results improved between his time at the children's home and his interview with Prost: "This improvement can be explained by growing up in chronological age and maturation process of his central nervous system." The defendant's verbal intelligence indicated that he does have capacity for making a "socially appropriate judgment." Dr. Raza opined, "Taking all these factors into consideration, it is my opinion that I do not see him as severely handicapped in terms of intellectual ability as to interfere with his ability to see right from wrong."

         ¶ 13 At the sentencing hearing, the State presented one witness, a former East St. Louis homicide section police officer. The officer stated that he investigated the murder of Frank Cash and the attempted murder of John Ostman and that he testified in the defendant's trial for those offenses. The officer also stated that he investigated the murder of John Oertel and that he testified in the defendant's trial for that offense. Oertel was killed roughly two months before Esther, while the defendant was still 17 years old. Cash was killed a month after Esther, after the defendant had turned 18. The State introduced certified copies of the defendant's convictions in both cases. In the former he received concurrent 35- and 25-year sentences. In the latter he received a 40-year sentence.

         ¶ 14 Before closing arguments, the defendant's attorney told the court that the defendant did not want to offer any mitigating evidence and that the defendant's mother did not want to testify on his behalf. Consequently, the defendant's attorney conceded, "I have no evidence to present at this time" and declined the trial court's invitation to make any additions, corrections, or modifications to the PSI. In closing, the prosecutor highlighted the defendant's criminal history and the fact that he was on parole when Esther was murdered. According to the prosecutor, Esther was old and feeble and posed no threat to the defendant. The prosecutor noted that the defendant still denied any involvement in the murder, despite his fingerprints at the scene. The prosecutor added:

"I believe more than about any other Defendant that I have seen come through here Mr. Holman deserves to be removed from society for the rest of his natural life. It's only an accident of birth that he did not qualify for the death penalty, having been too young when these offenses were committed to have qualified. Not being able to seek the death penalty on Mr. Holman, I believe that we have to seek the next best thing ***. *** I believe that the life sentence here is necessary to deter others from going out on similar crime sprees ***."

         ¶ 15 The defendant's attorney argued that the question before the court was whether the court "should assess natural life to this very young man." The defendant's attorney asked the court to consider rehabilitation as a goal and argued that isolation in the prison system militates against that goal. Finally, the defendant's attorney pleaded with the trial court to consider "some other alternative than that requested by the State and to give this young man an opportunity."

         ¶ 16 The trial court offered the defendant an opportunity to make a statement. The defendant said:

"Your Honor, [the prosecutor] made the statement that I was convicted of several-three counts of Murder before. That I have been convicted as of what they say as accessory of the Murder, of knowing this Murder have taken place. I was never ...

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