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People v. Thomas

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

October 31, 2017

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

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Tazewell County, Illinois, Appeal No. 3-15-0542 Circuit No. 10-CF-659 Honorable Paul Gilfillan, Judge, Presiding.

          LYTTON JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices O'Brien and Schmidt concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          LYTTON JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, William S. Thomas, appeals from the denial of his motion for forensic testing. He argues that his motion set forth each of the elements required for such testing to be granted and thus requests this court reverse the Tazewell County circuit court's judgment. We find that any result of the proposed testing would not have the potential to produce evidence that would raise a reasonable probability that defendant would have been acquitted had he proceeded to trial. We therefore affirm the circuit court's denial of defendant's motion.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 Defendant pled guilty on June 24, 2011, to one count of being an armed habitual criminal (720 ILCS 5/24-1.7 (West 2010)). As a part of the factual basis for the plea, the State submitted certified copies of defendant's previous convictions for burglary, aggravated battery, and unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon.

         ¶ 4 The State further declared that Genie Hopkins would testify that she saw defendant with a green and orange sawed-off shotgun. That shotgun was later recovered from a vehicle being driven by defendant on or about November 26, 2010. In a videotaped interview with police, defendant admitted to purchasing and possessing that sawed-off shotgun. Following the factual basis, defense counsel responded: "Your honor, that's a very, very truncated version of the case, but yes, we agree that they could present that evidence." The court accepted defendant's plea and, at a later date, sentenced him to a term of 18 years' imprisonment.

         ¶ 5 Following his plea hearing, defendant filed numerous motions seeking to withdraw the plea and to obtain new representation. In one of those motions, defendant alleged that his videotaped confession was involuntary because he was under the influence of alcohol and Xanax when the statements were made. Defendant attached to one motion an affidavit from Hopkins, in which she admitted to perjuring herself.

         ¶ 6 On June 28, 2012, just over a year after defendant's plea hearing, the court held a hearing on defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. At the hearing, Hopkins testified that defendant is the father of her child and her boyfriend of six years. Hopkins testified that around November 26, 2010, she and defendant had been arguing and defendant was threatening to leave her. Hopkins decided to frame defendant for possession of firearms. She first put six Xanax into three beers that defendant drank. She then retrieved the sawed-off shotgun from another residence and brought it to the home she shared with defendant. When defendant saw Hopkins with the sawed-off shotgun, he tried to wrestle it away from her. In the ensuing scuffle, the shotgun struck Hopkins in the face, causing a gash on her forehead. Hopkins then put the gun into her Jeep. Hopkins later asked an acquaintance to hit her with a pistol to make it look like defendant had battered her. She then reported to the police that defendant had kidnapped their son and was in possession of multiple firearms. She recanted her story about the kidnapping prior to defendant's guilty plea. She did not recant the portion of her story relating to the firearms because she feared being charged herself.

         ¶ 7 Defendant testified that he asked his original defense attorney, Fred Bernardi, to conduct DNA testing on the sawed-off shotgun, but Bernardi refused. According to defendant, Bernardi also refused to introduce expert testimony regarding the effects of Xanax. Defendant insisted that his confession to police was involuntary.

         ¶ 8 Bernardi testified that he did not seek DNA testing on the sawed-off shotgun because defendant had consistently acknowledged, both in a videotaped interview with police and in jail phone recordings, that he possessed the weapon.

         ¶ 9 The court denied defendant's motion to withdraw the plea. The court rejected the notion that counsel had been ineffective, observing: "[Defendant] knew he couldn't prevail at trial, or the likelihood was infinitesimal." The court outright rejected Hopkins's testimony, stating: "[Hopkins] has no credibility at all. The story that she put forth today in front of the Court was completely a manufactured story, [and] was an insult to the Court's intelligence. She clearly lied today again. She's a habitual liar." The court declared that Bernardi was the only credible witness.

         ¶ 10 On appeal, this court granted appointed counsel's motion to withdraw and affirmed the court's denial of defendant's motion to withdraw the guilty plea. People v. Thomas, No. 3-12-0544 (Jan. 1, 2014) (unpublished summary order under Supreme Court Rule 23(c)).

         ¶ 11 On July 2, 2015, defendant filed a pro se motion for DNA testing, the only subject of the present appeal. In the motion, defendant sought DNA testing on the green and orange sawed-off shotgun, alleging that he never touched the weapon and that Hopkins and two other individuals complicit in the scheme to frame him likely did touch the weapon. Defendant asserted that the presence of Hopkins's DNA or that of her two alleged cohorts ...


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