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People v. Smith

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

November 30, 2017

ERIC SMITH, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 09 CR 21018 Honorable Brian K. Flaherty, Judge Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Gordon and Ellis concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Following a jury trial, defendant Eric Smith was found guilty of first degree murder and attempted first degree murder and sentenced to a total of 58 years' imprisonment. On appeal, defendant contends that (1) the cumulative effect of multiple errors during his trial resulted in the jury being presented with emotional argument and inflammatory evidence which, in turn, created a pervasive pattern of unfair prejudice that deprived him of a fair trial, (2) his pretrial fitness hearing failed to meet minimal due process requirements where the trial court merely adopted an expert's conclusion based on stipulated testimony that he was fit to stand trial, (3) People's instruction No. 6 improperly limited the jury to return the same verdict for both first degree murder and attempted first degree murder, (4) People's instruction Nos. 17 and 18 misstated the law and confused the jury on how to reach its verdicts, (5) the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing him, and (6) he should be given an additional day of presentence custody credit. Because we find that the cumulative effect of multiple trial errors resulted in a pervasive pattern of unfair prejudice that deprived defendant of a fair trial, we reverse his convictions and remand for a new trial.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 During an October 2009 family gathering in South Holland, Illinois, defendant stabbed Fias Mannie to death and wounded his infant daughter, Brooklyn, who was in her father's arms. None of the family members present knew what precipitated the stabbings. Defendant ran from the scene, and the police arrested him a short time later. As a result, the State charged him with, inter alia, first degree murder and attempted first degree murder.

         ¶ 4 A. Pretrial Proceedings

         ¶ 5 In May 2011, at defense counsel's request, the trial court ordered an evaluation of defendant to assess his fitness to stand trial and fitness to stand trial with medication. Dr. Mathew Markos, a psychiatrist, examined defendant, reviewed his records, and submitted a document to the court, opining that defendant was "mentally fit with medications." The court subsequently found defendant fit for trial with medications.

         ¶ 6 In June 2012, defendant hired a new attorney to represent him, who later requested that defendant be assessed for his sanity at the time of the alleged offenses and his ability to understand Miranda warnings. The trial court ordered the evaluation. Dr. Nishad Nadkarni, a psychiatrist, examined defendant, reviewed his records, and submitted a document to the court, opining that defendant "would have been legally sane at the time of the alleged offense[s]" as he "was not suffering from any mental disease or defect that would have substantially impaired his capacity to appreciate the criminality of the alleged act[s]." Dr. Nadkarni further opined that defendant would have been able to understand Miranda warnings at the time of his arrest.

         ¶ 7 Defense counsel subsequently requested a second opinion of defendant's sanity at the time of the alleged offenses from Dr. Georgia Conic, which the trial court allowed. Dr. Conic examined defendant, reviewed his records, and submitted a report to the court, diagnosing defendant at the time of the offenses with a "[s]chizophrenic disorder paranoid type" and a "[p]sychogenic fugue state, " as well as an antisocial personality disorder. Dr. Conic opined that defendant "experienced a psychogenic fugue state and was unaware of his actions as related to the stabbing of Fias and his daughter Brooklyn, and was not in control of himself." She further believed that "[t]he fugue state was probably induced by his mental illness or stress from situations at home."

         ¶ 8 In April 2014, the parties commenced jury selection for defendant's trial. During the questioning of a prospective juror, defendant began crying loudly. Defense counsel requested a break which the trial court allowed. After the court instructed all of the prospective jurors to temporarily leave the courtroom, counsel informed the court that defendant was "upset" and had not taken his medication that morning. Defendant stated that he was "okay" to continue with jury selection, prompting the court to bring the prospective jurors back into the courtroom. Later, toward the end of jury selection, the State expressed "concerns" about moving forward in light of defendant's lack of medication that morning. The court consequently dismissed all of the prospective jurors, and the parties agreed to postpone defendant's trial.

         ¶ 9 At a subsequent court date, at the State's request, the trial court ordered another evaluation of defendant to assess his fitness to stand trial and fitness to stand trial with medication. Dr. Nadkarni again examined defendant, reviewed his records, and submitted a document to the court, opining that defendant was "fit to stand trial." Dr. Nadkarni also found that there was "no evidence that the defendant suffers from bona fide major mental illness, or cognitive impairment that would preclude him from" assisting in his defense and maintaining appropriate courtroom behavior. Dr. Nadkarni stated that "[a]ny observations to the contrary should be interpreted as volitional on the part of the defendant and secondary to documented malingering of mental impairments, as well as marked character pathology." Additionally, Dr. Nadkarni determined that defendant's medication did not impact his fitness and he did not need "psychotropic medication in order to maintain his fitness or functioning." Lastly, Dr. Nadkarni referred the court to his psychiatric summary "for the basis of [his] opinion."

         ¶ 10 On June 17, 2014, the trial court held a fitness hearing where the State and defense counsel agreed to proceed by stipulation. The parties stipulated that, if Dr. Nadkarni had testified, he would have opined that defendant was "fit to stand trial." The court asked if there was any other evidence, but neither side offered any additional evidence. The court subsequently found defendant fit to stand trial without further comment, and his case proceeded to trial.

         ¶ 11 B. Opening Statements

         ¶ 12 The State began its opening statement by telling the jury that Fias Mannie was "a newlywed, " "a loving husband, " a "loving father to two beautiful girls, " and "a spiritual man." The State remarked that he had fasted the week prior to his death as part of his spirituality and invited family members over for a dinner to break the fast. The State then commented that "Fias was everything that the defendant is not, " which prompted an unsuccessful objection from defense counsel. Following the completion of the State's opening statements, counsel moved for a mistrial arguing that the State's comments were both argumentative and prejudicial. The trial court denied the motion, finding the State's comments proper and merely what its evidence planned to show. The court further observed that it could not "think of an opening statement where the [S]tate's not going to want to paint the defendant in a negative light."

         ¶ 13 In defendant's opening statement, defense counsel tacitly acknowledged that defendant committed the alleged acts but told the jury that it would hear evidence that he had "severe mental problems, " which caused him to not understand his actions and to not be criminally responsible for them.

         ¶ 14 C. The State's Case-in-Chief

         ¶ 15 The evidence in the State's case-in-chief revealed that, in October 2009, Fias Mannie lived in South Holland along with his wife, Shavon Mannie, and their daughters, Lerrick and six-month-old Brooklyn.[1] Shavon's brother was Floyd Wimberly. That month, defendant and his brother, who were cousins of Wimberly's wife, were staying at Wimberly's house. ¶ 16 On October 23, defendant helped Wimberly clean out a neighbor's house, during which Wimberly handed him a box of knives to throw away in a dumpster outside. Wimberly assumed that defendant threw them away as instructed. The next day, defendant accompanied Fias and his family, as well as Wimberly and his family, to church services. During the services, defendant was listening, clapping, and singing along to the hymns. At the completion of the services, many people, including defendant, hugged one another. Afterward, Fias invited the Wimberly family to his house for a dinner the following day to celebrate the completion of a week-long religious fast he had undertaken.

         ¶ 17 On October 25, defendant and the Wimberly family arrived at Fias's house. Defendant greeted Fias, shook his hand, and played with the family dog. After the families ate dinner, some of them watched a Chicago Bears game. Later in the evening, Fias, Brooklyn, and defendant were alone in the living room together. Fias was standing against a wall holding Brooklyn in his arms while he watched the football game. Up until this point, according to both Shavon and Wimberly, Fias and defendant seemed to be getting along well without any semblance of contention. Defendant was pleasant, acting normal, had not raised his voice, and never had an argument with Fias.

         ¶ 18 Shavon briefly went upstairs and when she returned downstairs, she observed defendant "swinging" at Fias, who was still holding Brooklyn. She yelled for Wimberly to help, who rushed into the living room. Shavon noticed a knife in defendant's hand, and when she looked back at Fias, she saw blood gushing from his face. Wimberly noticed blood coming through Fias's shirt and also saw a knife in defendant's hand, which he recognized as one of the knives he had given defendant to throw away two days prior. Wimberly immediately grabbed defendant, threw him against the wall, and eventually pushed him outside of the house. Defendant, however, wrestled himself away from Wimberly, jumped over a fence, and ran away.

         ¶ 19 Fias also ran out of the house where a neighbor, Kelly Heitmann, observed him covered in blood. She called 911 and tried to help him by putting pressure on a wound on his neck. The 911 operator had difficulty understanding Heitmann, which caused her to throw her phone in frustration. Heitmann's husband picked up the phone and continued speaking with the operator. While Heitmann was aiding Fias, he began choking on his own blood, and she noticed his eyes roll back into his head. Heitmann told Fias "it was okay if he needed to leave" and said a prayer for him.

         ¶ 20 The State played the 911 call from Heitmann for the jury. In the call, Heitmann can be heard struggling to inform the operator of her address, clearly panicked and overwhelmed. After Heitmann disappeared from the call, her husband appeared on the call and informed the operator of the address while also observing that Fias was "bleeding all over" from his neck. Crying and hysteria can be heard in the background.

         ¶ 21 Paramedics arrived to the scene shortly thereafter and transported both Fias and Brooklyn to the hospital. Fias eventually died as a result of multiple stab and incised wounds as well as congestion of his right lung. Brooklyn had a small gash on her cheek and a large one above her mouth and below her nose. Her injuries required surgery.

         ¶ 22 Meanwhile, at the scene, Wimberly talked to the police and identified defendant as the offender. South Holland police officer Robert Williams found defendant, approached him and asked him to identify himself. Defendant told Officer Williams that he was "Eric Smith from Michigan, " and Officer Williams arrested him.

         ¶ 23 At the police station, South Holland police detective Chris Lareau interviewed defendant and advised him of his Miranda rights. Defendant stated that he understood his rights and agreed to talk. Detective Lareau found defendant's responses to the questioning to be appropriate and thought defendant appeared "inquisitive" about the police's knowledge of the events.

         ¶ 24 Near Fias's house, the police recovered two knives. One was the knife that Wimberly had seen defendant with during the incident and the other was a knife that Wimberly later discovered had been taken from a drawer in his house.

         ¶ 25 D. Defendant's Case-in-Chief

         ¶ 26 In defendant's case-in-chief, Patricia Smith, defendant's mother, testified. She recounted that, during a two-week period in August 2009, defendant exhibited strange behavior, including hiding in a closet, being afraid to sleep by himself, and commenting that he was hearing voices. Because of his fears, defendant began sleeping in Smith's bed, something he had never previously done, even as a child. As a result, Smith took defendant to see a psychologist in their hometown of Saginaw, Michigan, named Dr. Georgia Conic. In October 2009, Smith thought that defendant was "doing better" and could potentially find a job in the Chicago area, so she sent him to stay with Wimberly.

         ¶ 27 Dr. Georgia Conic testified as an expert in the field of psychology. She stated that she first met defendant in August 2009 when Smith brought him to her office based on Smith's concerns over his recent behaviors, including increased agitation, paranoia, and fear that people were after him and his family. Dr. Conic evaluated defendant and observed that he appeared normal in some respects but also appeared to have some hallucinations. Ultimately, because he exhibited some symptoms consistent with schizophrenia and there had been a self-reported family history of it, Dr. Conic diagnosed defendant with schizophrenia and instructed him to have follow-up appointments with a psychiatrist, who could prescribe medication if necessary. Dr. Conic, however, acknowledged that normally a diagnosis of schizophrenia cannot be made unless a person had exhibited such symptoms for six months. As part of her evaluation, Dr. Conic examined defendant's antisocial behavior, where he scored a 70% antisocial rating. This rating was based on a history of rule breaking, reckless behavior, being argumentative with authority, verbal and physical fighting, and a pattern of poor impulse control. Dr. Conic stated that an antisocial personality disorder is not considered a mental illness but rather a mental disorder.

         ¶ 28 The next time Dr. Conic saw defendant was in July 2013, after he was charged for the instant offenses. In preparation for another evaluation of him, she reviewed police reports, witness statements, and defendant's own statements. However, she acknowledged she did not review his criminal history, a psychiatric summary of him by Dr. Markos, a psychiatric summary of him by Dr. Nadkarni, a clinical social work evaluation of him by licensed clinical social worker Janine Bostick, or his recent medical records. After Dr. Conic's evaluation of defendant, she concluded that he seemed "more rational, " "more interactive, " and generally "functioning better" than when she initially met him, but he could not emotionally connect to the fact that he had killed Fias. She also stated that, in statements defendant made to the police, he indicated that he had no recollection of the events, could not recall even being present when the stabbings occurred, stated he did not have a knife, and explained to the police the blood on his shirt had been there for days.

         ¶ 29 Dr. Conic ultimately opined that, on October 25, 2009, defendant was suffering from "schizophrenia paranoid type" and was in a "psychogenic fugue state" brought on by a combination of schizophrenia and stress at home. Dr. Conic explained that a fugue state was "a period of time where a person actually participates in actions that they are not aware of. They have a break from reality, and they are not functioning as their rational self." The fugue state can last for hours, and afterward, the person resumes normal functioning and has no recollection of what occurred during the fugue state. According to Dr. Conic, the conditions defendant suffered from that day resulted in him lacking the substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct.

         ¶ 30 Dr. Conic acknowledged that some people "malinger, " or falsely report the manifestation of psychological symptoms, in order to avoid prosecution. But she concluded that defendant was not malingering because it is "very hard to fake a fugue state, " and he did not have the "need to calculate or manipulate thinking." Dr. Conic admitted she was unaware that other doctors had suspected defendant of malingering.

         ¶ 31 E. The State's Rebuttal Case

         ¶ 32 In rebuttal, the State called Dr. Nishad Nadkarni, a psychiatrist, who testified as an expert in forensic psychiatry. In March 2013, in preparation for an evaluation of defendant, Dr. Nadkarni reviewed his criminal history, a psychological assessment of him prepared by GEC Psychological Consultants from August 2009, the psychiatric summary of him by Dr. Markos, the clinical social work evaluation of him by Bostick, police reports, several witness statements, statements from him, a DVD of him being interviewed by the police, and his recent medical records.

         ¶ 33 Defendant's medical records revealed that he did not seek treatment for his mental health issues until six or seven months after his arrest, and there were "significant notations" that defendant was "malingering." Defendant's medications included one milligram of Risperdal, an antipsychotic and mood stabilizer, every 12 hours, which was a "very small dose, " as people with "true mental illness like schizophrenia" require four to six milligrams of Risperdal per day. Dr. Nadkarni acknowledged, however, that defendant's medications were ones designed to treat people with a bona fide psychosis.

         ¶ 34 Dr. Nadkarni's review of the DVD revealed that defendant showed "no signs of any psychiatric or cognitive impairment." Rather, defendant appeared to be "interactive in a high and logical level" and "somewhat gamey in his demeanor." At one point, defendant was left alone in the interview room and told himself that he had left the scene and was not there, which led Dr. Nadkarni to believe that defendant was acting rational and logical, but merely antisocial.

         ¶ 35 During Dr. Nadkarni's evaluation, defendant reported his symptoms as including paranoia and hallucinations but did so in a "stilted and artificial manner, " which was "atypical of somebody who has a true, major mental illness." According to Dr. Nadkarni, people with true mental illnesses appear "very ill" and are "reluctant" to talk about their symptoms, which oftentimes makes a diagnosis difficult. Defendant, however, was "very well engaged" and called "attention to [his] symptoms." He also possessed a goal-oriented thinking process without any signs of hallucinations or psychosis, and he acted "interpersonally charismatic, " which was also contrary to the typical person with schizophrenia who acts "very flat." Based on the evaluation, Dr. Nadkarni concluded that defendant did not demonstrate "any bona fide or true psychiatric or cognitive impairments."

         ¶ 36 Dr. Nadkarni also discussed the stabbing incident with defendant, who reported that, prior to it, he "was in a bad spirit, " and heard voices and animals talking to him. Defendant stated that, during the stabbings, he suffered from "different psychiatric symptoms, " felt "out of control" and possibly heard more voices. He told Dr. Nadkarni that he "just stabbed" Fias and "left the scene because [he] realized what [he] had done." Defendant acknowledged to Dr. Nadkarni that his actions were unlawful.

         ¶ 37 Dr. Nadkarni ultimately diagnosed defendant with malingering, which is "the creation or feigning of mental symptoms, " a history of mood disorder, and an antisocial personality disorder, the latter of which was not a mental disease or defect but rather a behavior problem. Dr. Nadkarni opined that, at the time of the stabbings, defendant did not "manifest a bona fide or true mental disease or defect that would have substantially impaired his capacity to appreciate the criminality of the alleged acts."

         ¶ 38 When asked about a psychogenic fugue state, Dr. Nadkarni stated that only a "few dozen case reports" of a true fugue state had been documented and that most claims of such were really just malingering. Dr. Nadkarni, who had conducted over 3100 forensic evaluations in his capacity as a psychiatrist, could not answer whether a person in a fugue state would be able to appreciate the ...

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